Kemper Arena transformation into youth sports complex begins

The iconic but mostly dormant Kemper Arena is on its way to a makeover that would transform it into a year-round youth sports complex.

The City of Kansas City, Missouri, chose a $25 million redevelopment proposal for Kemper Arena submitted by Foutch Brothers LLC – which also is redeveloping the former West High School and Switzer Elementary School complex on the Westside as apartments.

The proposed Kemper Arena redevelopment would cost at least $25 million and be funded by equity financing provided by Foutch Brothers and other equity institutions, a bank loan and historic tax credits, said Steve Foutch, managing partner of Foutch Brothers, at a public hearing attended by about 150 people on the floor of the arena on May 18. The company also seeks the standard 10-year tax abatement from the city’s Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority for the project. The purchase price for the arena hasn’t been determined.

The proposed project would “spur economic activity that will support small businesses in the West Bottoms, and that’s a good thing for Kansas City,” said Scott Taylor, Kansas City Councilman for the 6th District at-large and chairman of the City Council’s Planning, Zoning and Economic Development Committee.

“We all believe that this is an iconic structure,” Foutch said. “We want to make it a destination. We think there is a high demand for sports, especially in the central city. We’re catering to a lot of sports that aren’t catered to in other places. It would provide continuous traffic for us and the neighborhood. To rebuild this structure today would (cost) hundreds of millions of dollars, so this gives us a chance to make this work.”

Foutch said if the project succeeds, his company hopes to expand it to Hale Arena and other parts of the 10-acre Kemper Arena complex.

Foutch said the project would include: an added second floor at the existing balcony level, increasing usable space by 200 percent; 12 basketball courts instead of four; a continuous traffic flow created by having at least 1,000 young athletes a night who would practice at the arena, which would spur West Bottoms development and business activity; the ability to host smaller events than those at the Sprint Center; 27,000 square feet of office space for retail, merchandising, physical therapy, sports training and fitness; movie theaters on the bottom floor for athletes to review videos of their practice sessions; a concourse one level up from the floor, with 10,000 square feet of leasable suites; and a five-lane running track on the top-level concourse.

“This facility will be open to adults, too,” Foutch said. “We’re not just a youth facility. This will be open to everybody.”

Comments from attendees before and during the public-comments segment of the hearing included mostly support but also some concerns about the proposed project.

Louise Jones lives in Kansas City’s Northland. She spoke during the hearing’s public comments segment and to Kansas City Hispanic News before the hearing started.

“I went to the Elvis Presley concert here in Kemper,” Jones told Hispanic News. “He put on one heck of a show that night, I’ll tell you. I’ve seen hockey games and basketball games here. I’m so glad Foutch Brothers has stayed with this project and has seen it this far. I’m real hopeful that something good will come out of this.”

Westside resident Mary Hernandez spoke during the public-comments segment, and expressed both support and concern.

“I’m not here to start any trouble or anything,” Hernandez said. “I’ve been here a long time. I think it’s a great idea, what you’re doing here. … As a resident of the Westside (though), I’m real concerned. I remember when this Kemper first went up. (Some Westside residents who were protesting) were arrested on Cesar Chavez Avenida, because we were against all the traffic that was hitting our neighborhoods. We couldn’t go anywhere with our cars or walking. As a neighborhood, we all decided we had to do something about it. ... But I think we got through to them, because all of a sudden the city started making some streets one-ways and improved Cesar Chavez a little bit.”

The city had issued a nationwide request for proposals on May 20, 2015, to redevelop the arena. Foutch Brothers and Steven Brothers Sports Management Co. were the only developers that submitted proposals.

The city paid off the bonds on Kemper Arena on April 15 of this year, which means “the taxpayers now own it free and clear,” Taylor said. Selling Kemper Arena would save the city $1 million a year “just to keep this building in existence for just a couple of events a year which don’t really generate any revenue for the taxpayers.

“The only other option on the table is to demolish it,” Taylor said, adding that demolition would cost the city $5 million to $6 million. “If we deconstructed it in a green-friendly way, it could cost $10 million to 12 million. It also would cost as much as $10 million in deferred maintenance in the next five years if we keep this open for private events like graduations and cheerleading competitions.”

City officials will conduct a financial analysis of the Foutch Brothers proposal and its historic tax credits application, and examine how it would fit into the AdvanceKC process. The city describes AdvanceKC as a strategic blueprint of its future.

If the city approves the Foutch Brothers proposal, the company is expected to assume ownership of Kemper Arena by the end of September and hopes to finish the project by the end of 2017.