You probably haven’t heard of Emporis, a German company based in Hamburg, specializing in data related to buildings. But trust us, the folks at Emporis have heard about Kansas City: In 2014, they included the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts on its list of the world’s 15 best concert-hall venues. Not the 15 best in the U.S., the 15 best in the world.
That’s a nice bit of praise, but if you scratch the surface of that compliment, you discover something about the Kansas City region that goes beyond the stainless-steel cladding and the arched design of the K-Pac. It says something, in broader terms, about the value that people in the region place on entertainment and culture.
While the city covered the costs of its adjacent parking garage, the $413 million center itself was the product of private funding, the bulk of which came through the Kauffman family and its foundation. A great many people got on board to make the building a reality and cement this region’s reputation for performance-art venues. With two seating venues of 1,600 and 1,800 seats each, this glittering facility will be home to the Kansas City Symphony, the Lyric Opera and the Kansas City Ballet.
Tucked into a thriving Downtown at the southern end of the sprawling Kansas City Convention Center, that center serves as a physical and symbolic link between Downtown and the bustling Crossroads Art District, an area reclaimed by this region’s artistic community from a series of vacant and underused warehouses.
It also will provide an anchor for the planned relocation of the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Conservatory of Music and Dance, which is well into the fund-raising for a project that will further transform the Crossroad by infusing talent, support staff and housing demand.
Just blocks away, the new Todd Bolender Center for Center for Dance and Creativity opened in 2011, the same year as completion date. The center, in the refurbished building that was once the power house for Union Station, is the operating home of the Kansas City Ballet and various other dance-related programs and activities. Combined with the Kauffman Center, it gives this region perhaps the nation’s premier dance infrastructure.
That broad sweep, from Union Station south of the Downtown Loop through the convention center and $850 million Power and Light entertainment district (including the new Sprint Center arena), has repositioned Downtown as a place to be not only locally, but from throughout a four-state area.
Power and Light, at nine square blocks, includes upscale restaurants with outdoor seating, creative landscaping and a permanent performance stage. After dark, high-tech light displays add to both the atmosphere and a new dimension to roughly 450,000 square feet of retail and entertainment space. And all that sits across Grand Boulevard from the $275 million Sprint Center, which has redefined Downtown as a venue for big-name music and entertainment draws.
Downtown is enjoying a renaissance, but the
region’s fine arts appeal is by no means limited to that venue. We’re also home to the Kansas City Chamber Orchestra, Kansas City Chorale, Kansas City Camerata and the Friends of Chamber Music. Theaters include the Folly Theater, the Kansas City Repertory Theatre, New Theatre, Yardley Hall at Johnson County Community College, Unicorn Theatre and more.
This is a region awash in historical contributions to American culture, arts and entertainment. Of course, Kansas City pioneered jazz and blues music, and it alone has revived the legacy of the Negro Leagues of professional baseball. Museums dedicated to these vitally important aspects of KansasCity and American culture are the heart and soul of the 18th & Vine Entertainment District—not coincidentally, the historical center of African-American culture and commerce in Kan-sas City.
Boulevards? Got ’em. Fountains? Yep. Combined, they give the urban center a level of sophistication and grace unmatched by most other cities of our size. And because Kansas City made those pillars of its infrastructure early in its development, it set a standard that has been embraced in fast-growing communities through-out the region.
Again, within short distances of the booming Downtown area, you can find entertainment and retail districts to suit almost any taste. The Country Club Plaza is the pinnacle of dining and shopping, and draws a successful and generally mature crowd. Nearby, the Westport nightclub district caters to a somewhat younger set, and on “Restaurant Row”—39th Street—you can find something for virtually everyone.
Flanking the region are multiple retail and entertainment venues, almost all of which still haven’ worn the shine of “new” off: Zona Rosa and the Briarcliff Center are the best examples of that in the Northland; Kansas City’s eastern gateway has been redefined by the retail boom in the twin Eastland and Hartman Heritage centers; and the unparalleled success of the Village West retail district has rewritten the economic fortunes of Wyandotte County, immediately to the west of Kansas City proper.
And, of course, there’s Johnson County, a suburban powerhouse of more than 570,000 people, will all the attendant shopping, dining and entertainment options you’d expect to find in a county that consistently ranks among the 20 wealthiest in America.
Casinos, water parks, theme parks and pro/college sporting venues round out this region’s broad appeal.