The decision has been made. Click for article, or content is below:
It’s Foutch Brothers LLC.
City officials will make the official announcement Wednesday that they have chosen to negotiate the transfer of Kemper Arena to the Kansas City-based development firm, which proposes converting the West Bottoms landmark into a two-level hub for youth and amateur sports.
The announcement will be made during a 7 p.m. public hearing on the floor of the 42-year-old arena. The hearing will be preceded by a 6 p.m. tour of Kemper that will be open to the public. Those wishing to participate should park in the arena’s north parking lot and enter through the administrative entrance, which can be located by looking for the blue awning over it.
The city chose to negotiate with Foutch Brothers after vetting proposals from it and one other firm— Wichita-based Steven Brothers Sports Management — that responded to a May 2015 nationwide request for Kemper Arena repurposing proposals.
Steven Brothers, the owners of three ECHL hockey franchises (the Wichita Thunder, Allen Americans and Tulsa Oilers), proposed using Kemper for youth hockey and other sports and entertainment events.
The selection committee that vetted the dueling proposals included Kansas City elected officials and staff.
According to a release from City Councilman Scott Taylor, a member of the selection committee, “The Foutch Brothers presented a new and dynamic use for Kemper Arena that will bring widespread economic impact to the West Bottoms and Downtown.”
Representatives of Foutch Brothers will participate in Wednesday’s tour of the facility and attend the public hearing.
“I encourage all citizens that have an interest in the redevelopment and historic preservation of Kemper Arena to join us for the public tour and hearing on this proposed redevelopment plan,” saidTaylor, chairman of the City Council’s Planning, Zoning and Economic Development Committee.
The next steps in the process will be a rigorous financial vetting for Foutch Brothers’ proposal and negotiation of the arena’s final sale. The arena is on about 10 acres of city-owned property on the south side of the West Bottoms.
“We have a chance to redevelop Kemper Arena into a vibrant focal point in the West Bottoms that will help support the existing small businesses and encourage others to open shop and remove the (annual) $1 million dollar cost to taxpayers to maintain Kemper Arena today,” Taylor said.
In 2011, the American Royal Association announced a $60 million plan that called for improvements to buildings in its West Bottoms complex and replacement of city-owned Kemper, which the association has a lease to use through 2045, with a smaller events center for the Royal’s livestock and equestrian shows and other events.
After a long debate about whether the city should support that plan or Foutch Brothers’ 2014 proposal to repurpose Kemper as a youth and amateur sports hub, the Kansas City Council seemed poised to support the Royal plan with an investment of $20 million.
But during a discussion in November 2014, City Council members decided that before allowing Kemper to be torn down, they should circulate a nationwide request for proposals from entities with plans for saving the arena.
Soon thereafter, the American Royal shelved its $60 million plan and began exploring new venues — including Kansas City, Kan. — for its West Bottoms activities. It has already moved its annual barbecue competition.
Opened in 1974, Kemper Arena was built with support from R. Crosby Kemper Jr., a longtime civic and banking leader who died in 2014.
In 1972, the Kemper family donated $1.5 million toward construction of the new city-owned arena. It was named in memory of R. Crosby Kemper Sr., who died earlier that year.
But 40 years after Kemper Arena opened, UMB Financial Corp. CEO Mariner Kemper, son of R. Crosby Kemper Jr., led the charge to tear the facility down.
Mariner Kemper, who was chairman of the American Royal Association’s board in 2014, opposed Foutch Brothers’ $21 million plan, announced in February 2014, to save the West Bottoms arena, which was seldom used by that point.
During a February 2014 interview, Kemper said it would take $30 million to $50 million to restore the arena to its former glory as a venue for big-time concerts and sporting events. But that would make absolutely no sense, given the fact that the city opened Sprint Center in Downtown in 2007.
“I’d rather remember Kemper Arena for what it was than for what it will become if we don’t think freshly,” Kemper said. “You can’t put $50 million into Kemper Arena and compete with the Sprint Center. And the alternatives are Band-Aids, twine and duct tape. The outcome in 10 or 15 years would be that you’re tearing it down anyway, and what you end up with in the meantime is a building in decay and an embarrassment — the world’s largest laser tag arena.”
Kansas City’s historic preservation community, however, rallied behind Foutch’s plan, which the developers claimed could coexist in the West Bottoms with the new facility the American Royal wanted to build. ( The Royal argued otherwise).
Foutch Brothers CEO Steve Foutch, whose firm has completed several historic rehabs in the region, said he came up with his 2014 plan to save Kemper at the behest of local preservation enthusiasts seeking an alternative to the American Royal’s 2011 raze-and-replace plan.
Foutch had learned about Kemper’s famous German designer, Helmut Jahn, while completing an architecture degree at Iowa State University.
Erik Heitman, an architect at BNIM and the 2014 chairman of the city’s Historic Preservation Commission, said Kemper Arena was the first major work of Jahn, the nation’s first “starchitect.” Known for the exterior steel trusses that allowed the facility to be built without interior columns, the arena was an early example of high-tech modernism and stands as a symbol of Kansas City’s innovative spirit, Heitman said.
During its heydey, Kemper Arena also was the site of some momentous contests.
It was there that Republicans narrowly voted to nominate Gerald Ford as their presidential candidate over Ronald Reagan in 1976. And the Kansas Jayhawks improbably beat the Oklahoma Sooners on the Kemper floor and won the NCAA men’s basketball national championship in 1988.
Ironically, in the heated contest about Kemper’s fate in 2014, Steve Foutch threw in the towel after several heavy hitters in the community lined up behind the American Royal Association plan.
“I think our chances are sliding quickly,” Foutch said Oct. 17, 2014. “You have (Cerner Corp. CEO) Neal Patterson and (JE Dunn Construction Group Inc. CEO) Terry Dunn and all those other 75 people on the list. Those are big people, and I think they can stomp on me and trump City Hall.”
A couple of weeks later, after the American Royal Association threatened to sue Foutch Brothers if it didn’t stop pursuing national historic designation of the arena to win tax credits for its plan, City Hall announced that the developers had withdrawn their repurposing proposal.
But after the request for Kemper repurposing proposals was issued last year, Foutch Brothers decided to get back in the game.