The American Royal said Thursday that it has hired a consultant to answer the question of what will happen to Kemper Arena if voters approve a downtown arena.
But Kemper’s fate won’t be fully known until next year — long after Tuesday’s vote on new fees to help build a $225 million to $250 million arena.
Arena supporters and opponents held competing rallies Thursday on the south lawn of City Hall, each side trying to drown out the other with chants of “Yes on 1” (referring to Question 1 on the ballot) and “Don’t tax us.”
The two crowds were peaceful but spirited, with rock music blaring in the background.
“This is just like the ’60s,” said Kevin Gray, president of the Kansas City Sports Commission.
The American Royal said it had retained Bullock Smith & Partners, a consulting firm based in Knoxville, Tenn., and Economic Research Associates, a Los Angeles-based firm, to develop a master plan and feasibility study for the American Royal complex, including Kemper.
The study is expected to cost about $100,000, and is expected in February.
Ever since Mayor Kay Barnes announced plans for a new arena in May, skeptics have wondered what would happen to Kemper. The city took on $20 million in debt in 1996 to expand the building and an additional $14.7 million a few years ago for a new garage nearby. The debt on those bonds is not expected to be paid off until 2016 and 2022.
If sporting events and concerts move to a new arena, Kemper will need to find new ways to generate revenue. That is what the consultants are supposed to figure out.
“The study will be charged with answering the important questions of: If we build it, will they come? And will it be fiscally viable?” said George Guastello, president of the American Royal.
More specifically, Guastello said, the study will help the Royal understand the facilities necessary to accomplish its goal of becoming the nation’s center for agricultural excellence. It will also explore the possibilities for festivals, exhibitions and educational activities.
Bullock Smith & Partners is a member of the North American Livestock and Rodeo Managers Association.
Economic Research Associates concentrates on economic analyses for the entertainment and tourism industries.
Barnes said that other cities had found new uses for old arenas and that she was optimistic the same would be true for Kemper.
“There is a whole industry called agri-entertainment that involves a much broader range of activities than we’ve seen (at the American Royal),” Barnes said.
But former city councilman Paul Danaher, a spokesman for the Coalition Against Arena Taxes, wondered how Kemper could fill seats year-round with agricultural events.
“It will become a huge financial albatross for the city,” Danaher said.
Arena opponents said Thursday that they now had the support of the National Taxpayers Union, Citizens for a Sound Economy and Associated Industries of Missouri.
Tuesday’s ballot measure seeks an increase of up to $1.50 per day per hotel room and up to $4 per day per rental car in Kansas City to help pay for the arena, which would have 18,000 to 20,000 seats. Dubbed the Sprint Center, it is slated to open in 2007 at 14th Street and Grand Boulevard.
Some people who own property near Kemper also oppose the new arena.
Bill Haw, former chief executive of National Farms, challenged Barnes to a debate.
Haw accused Barnes of ducking public discussion of the city’s arena partnership with Anschutz Entertainment Group.
But Steve Glorioso, an aide to Barnes, said the mayor would debate only Andrew Taylor, chief executive of Enterprise Rent-A-Car, the St. Louis company bankrolling much of the anti-arena campaign.
Also, Glorioso said, Barnes will not debate until Enterprise pays $15,000 in Kansas City parking tickets.
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