When was the last time you went to an event at Kemper Arena? Do you even remember how to get there? For the younger generations, do you even know what it is?
For at least the past decade, the arena has sat mostly silent. Apart from American Royal events, so little happened inside you could probably hear the weeds growing up from ground and cracking open the abandoned parking lots. In the early ‘90s, nearly 20 years after it opened, there were plans for reviving the area. With anchors like the Royal and the Big XII basketball tournament, it held up for a while. But then, silence again, and the Royal’s move to Wyandotte County seemed to signal the end of the line.
There was the occasional rattle of hope that something could work and even the threat of demolishing the building to make way for something new. That has come in the form of a $39 million redevelopment at the hands of Foutch Architecture and Development. Just this week, Hy-Vee got in the mix by purchasing the naming rights for the next decade. Hy-Vee Arena is touted as a “first-of-its-kind, state-of-the-art sports environment and hub for hundreds of local, regional and national tournaments each year.”
It will have multiple floors comprising of 84,000 square feet of sports and event space, plus the largest indoor track in the nation. What made Kemper stand out originally was the lack of interior columns—no obstructed views—and that will remain with this redesign. But the modern fads and local flare should turn it up a notch, with the arena housing specialty businesses like cross-fit, hydrotherapy, golf simulators, e-gaming and commercial offices.
Again, lots of promise with high hopes of delivering.
Maybe the difference this time around is the West Bottoms has reinvented itself in the past few years. Ask yourself: Would you ever have dreamed of going down to the West Bottoms a decade ago for a night out? The district has witnessed antique shops open on certain Saturdays in the month, haunted houses for Halloween, breweries and local restaurants for the modern foodie, and even a place where you can go throw an axe for fun while sipping on a beer.
Time will certainly tell for this venture. In September, the arena will open its doors as Hy-Vee Arena and welcome curious guests looking for the latest thing. To be candid, there was a lot wrong with Kansas City in the 1970s, one reason we ended up with a major sports venue and pro sports stadiums detached from the central business district. Perhaps this is a sort of reformation, and Kemper is getting its second chance.