Kemper Arena, at 1800 Genessee in Kansas City's Central Industrial District, is the centerpiece of the American Royal Center complex.
The site of the 1976 Republican National Convention and numerous NCAA Final Four competitions, Kemper seats 17,500 people and is a prime venue for concerts, touring family shows, conventions and professional and collegiate sporting events. Kemper is also home for the IHL Kansas City Blades hockey team and the NPSL Kansas City Attack soccer team.
The building's most unusual feature is a web of exterior steel trusses that suspend the roof, eliminating the need for interior columns and providing an unobstructed view from all seats.
The arena has an 85- by 200-foot floor and a computerized scoreboard featuring four video screens for messages, advertisements, replays and graphics. Message boards also ring the arena at mid-level. The building has a full-service restaurant and lounge, 25 executive suites on the main concourse, two TV/radio broadcast suites, and a complete in-house TV studio.
Renovation-Expansion-Under Construction - To be completed September 1997. Architect: HNTB, Kansas City, MO. The project includes an additional 2,000 seats bringing the total capacity to 20,000, a new entrance, additional concession areas, and additional women's restrooms in compliance with federal disability standards.
Source: Kansas City Convention and Entertainment Centers
BLADES CUTTING EXPENSES TO SAVE TEAM
October 14, 1999
Copyright 1999 MediaVentures
The IHL Kansas City Blades are slashing promotion, printing and other expenses in hopes of keeping the team alive in Kemper Arena. The team spent heavily last year, according to owner Dan DeVos, in hopes of building support for the team. The support didn't materialize, so the team is now faced with cutting back on its spending.
In 1998 the team signed a new lease to play at Kemper Arena that forces less ticket revenue on the team, but also gives them a chance to make more money on concessions. The lease was for just the 1999-2000 season and requires that the team pay one dollar per ticket sold rather than 50 cents under the previous lease. In return, the team will got a chance at more concession revenue. Previously the team got 40% of the first $200,000. Now it gets that, plus 50% of sales from $200,000 to $250,000 and 60% of all sales over $250,000. The city also granted the team the right to sell any unsold signage positions not only for its games, but for all other arena events. That revenue is shared with the city.
While that sounds promising, the team has been struggling to draw large crowds into Kemper. Average attendance is 5,689 per game compared with the IHL average last
season of 7,525. Kemper Arena seats 13,106.
The team would also like to see a curtain covering the upper bowl, giving the arena a more intimate feeling, but city officials say they will not spring for the $250,000 cost
and the team doesn't feel it should assume the expense.
COUNCILMAN PUSHES FOR KEMPER CLOSURE
December 18, 2008
Copyright 2008 MediaVentures
Kansas City, Mo. - A Kansas City Councilman wants to close Kemper Arena, saying it costs too
much money to keep open, but the American Royal sees it differently.
"All I know is from the city's perspective, there's no long-term advantage to our keeping that
building," said Councilman Russ Johnson.
While the Sprint Center is humming right along, even in a sour economy, the old barn it
replaced is often empty. Just 53 or 54 events are set for the entire year, resulting in a deficit of perhaps a half-million dollars. The Sprint Center had 140 events in its first year.
Taxpayers still owe $16 million on Kemper renovations dating to the mid-1990s, says Oscar
McGaskey, director of the city's convention and entertainment facilities department.
That's not counting debt service on a $20 million West Bottoms parking garage, which depends
on parking fees from people attending events at the arena and the rest of the American Royal
Then there's the contract with the Royal that runs through 2045.
"Nobody in the city has advocated that we not live up to the obligations we have to the
American Royal," Johnson says.
Still, in a series of recent meetings between individual council members and American Royal
officials, a plan is being advanced to sign Kemper over to the civic and charitable group famous for its annual barbecue contest, livestock show and equestrian events.
"Yes, we are open to discussing the possibility of the American Royal owning Kemper Arena,"
says Jim McNair, who heads the American Royal. (Kansas City Star)
March 24, 2011
Copyright 2011 MediaVentures
The American Royal is considering moving its dirt events out of Kemper Arena and into the Sprint Center, Kansas City Star columnist Mike Hendricks reported. Explaining the move in a letter to the Royal board of governors, current chairman David M. Fowler said the American Royal is not tied to a set of buildings but instead is "a virtual organization representing all that is agrarian in the Kansas City Region." As evidence of that, he wrote, "we will take our activities to other venues." Hendricks said a final agreement is expected soon. All three interested parties forecast a big boost in overall attendance, even though the rodeo and the concerts that follow it would be compressed into one three-day weekend, instead of two.
July 14, 2011
Copyright 2011 MediaVentures
The American Royal Rodeo will move from Kemper Arena to downtown Kansas City this
October, the American Royal Association told the Kansas City Star. The association said it will hold its 2011 Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Gold Tour Rodeo on Oct. 27-29 at the Sprint Center.
KEMPER'S FUTURE IN QUESTION
July 21, 2011
Copyright 2011 MediaVentures
Kansas City, Mo. - With the announcement that the American Royal Rodeo is moving out of
Kemper Arena, its long-time home, and with few new events coming in, the Kansas City Star asks if it is time to shut Kemper down? No, say city officials and others, although they all concede the challenges ahead.
Instead, they're looking at several options, including finding ways to perhaps turn Kemper into something that isn't even an arena – an outdoor amphitheater, perhaps.
For now, the financial situation isn't desperate, because revenues from the new Sprint Center cover Kemper's costs, Oscar McGaskey, Kansas City's director of convention and entertainment centers, told the Star.
It cost the city about $1 million to operate Kemper Arena this year, which includes utilities, maintenance, staffing and the management fee, city budget officials told the newspaper. Revenue going to the city from the arena last year totaled about $253,000.
"It is costing more to operate it than the revenues coming in," McGaskey said. "Revenues have been declining since Sprint Center opened in October 2007." This year, 23 events are planned for Kemper, including radio show host Dave Ramsey, a tractor pull and a Jehovah's Witnesses convention, but that continues a downhill slide.
In 2007, the arena hosted 39 events and in 2006, 54 events.
The Star said it's not likely that the building will be razed, at least for a while.
A 50-year contract with the American Royal is one big reason.
That contract will not expire until 2045. Under the contract, the city must reserve 20 days a year for Royal events at Kemper.
The American Royal has only three events planned at Kemper this year, although two of them run over multiple days. Of the events, two could probably relocate to Sprint or the American Royal facilities without much trouble, American Royal President Bob Petersen told the newspaper.
He said the third, a saddlebred horse show - the third largest American Royal earner in gross revenue - would probably leave Kansas City if Kemper was not available.
"Kemper is useful and important to us," Petersen said.
Moving the rodeo made sense, though, because it only sold 3,000 to 4,000 tickets at Kemper and is expected to sell 12,000 at the Sprint Center.
McGaskey said there have been no discussions between the city and the American Royal about renegotiating the current contract.
In addition to the contract, McGaskey said the city still owes $10 million in debt on Kemper, which will cost taxpayers $2.2 million each year until it is paid off in 2016.
The future of Kemper Arena could take several paths, ranging from demolition to repurposing. Only one scenario might keep Kemper as an arena, City Councilman Ed Ford told the Star.
"The only way Kemper could remain viable is if we could get an NHL or NBA team at Sprint that would open up events for Kemper," he said.
But the city and AEG, the company that manages both Kemper and the Sprint Center, are unable to say how realistic that possibility is.
In a more likely scenario, Kemper would still hang around, just not as an arena, Ford and others say.
"I think it's been apparent for some time that we don't need two competing arenas in the city," Ford said.
Alternate uses could include a skating rink, indoor soccer facility, megachurch or outdoor amphitheater. All of those are just blue-sky ideas at this point, though.
AMERICAN ROYAL WANTS KEMPER RAZED
October 27, 2011
Copyright 2011 MediaVentures
Kansas City, Mo. - American Royal leaders called on the city to demolish Kemper Arena and
replace it with a new equestrian and agricultural center, the Kansas City Star said.
R. Crosby Kemper Jr. and his son Mariner Kemper also pledged at a news conference to help
raise millions of private dollars to jump-start the new center.
"Let's stop holding onto the past and living in the past and let's build for the future," Mariner Kemper, who serves on the American Royal board, told the Star.
Mariner Kemper is CEO of UMB Financial Corp and his father provided the land and several million dollars to build Kemper Arena in the early 1970s.
The Kempers were joined by other American Royal board members, city council members and other civic leaders in endorsing the idea of tearing down Kemper to make room for a 5,000-seat coliseum and facility tailored to year-round livestock and horse shows, plus barbecue and other festival events.
Cost of the facility was estimated at $70 million, including $50 million in new construction, $10 million for demolition and upgrades to the existing American Royal complex, and $10 million to pay off the outstanding debt on Kemper.
The Kempers' fund-raising campaign would attempt to raise about $10 million, although the source of the rest of the funding is not yet known.
Mariner Kemper said his family is very proud of its namesake arena, which opened in November 1974. But he and others believe it has outlasted its useful life, and no city of Kansas City's size can realistically support two big arenas. The Sprint Center opened in 2007, and Kemper has been losing events ever since.
American Royal officials insisted it makes financial sense for the city to cut its losses with Kemper and move on with a new facility. They said Kemper has too few events annually, outside of the Royal, to merit keeping it open.
Board Chair Dave Fowler pointed out that the city has another 34 years to go on its 50-year lease with the American Royal, and that obligates the city to keep Kemper up for the Royal's events. Kemper has an operating deficit of more than $1 million per year and about $20 million in deferred maintenance that the city needs to continue remedying under its lease agreement.
Fowler said it makes more sense to build a new facility than put money into an aging relic.
The city still owes $10 million in debt for improvements made to Kemper in the mid-1990s, and that debt is not scheduled to be paid off until 2016. Fowler said that could be rolled over and refinanced in some type of bond issue for the new facility. But it is not yet known how those bonds would be paid for, and whether it might require a tax increase.
American Royal officials know they need to make this case to the public. But they pointed out that the Royal contributes an estimated $70 million to the city's economy every year. They believe the public will realize not only its historic value to the city, but its place in the city's future as a hub for agribusiness and animal health, the newspaper said.
The American Royal has been working with Kansas City's Populous architecture firm on a design concept for the facility, with a "retro" look inspired by the 1922 building that served the American Royal for nearly 70 years.
Among the facility's features:
* A coliseum with about 5,000 seats in a bowl configuration and 125-foot by 250-foot events floor.
* A pavilion with "open air" or optional open sides. It would have space available for a show ring for livestock and horse shows, other festival events, plus animal stalls.
* An outdoor plaza with both hard surfaces and landscaping capable of accommodating the barbecue contest and other events.
The existing American Royal would also get improvements, including a new faćade and replacement of the antiquated air-handling system.