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The fate of Kemper Arena remains in limbo

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- It's hosted a Republican National Convention, a college basketball national championship game, countless concerts and American Royals events, but now two groups with distinct visions for the future of the Kemper Arena site are looking at compromise options.

"Old, antiquated, not state of the art," said chairmen Ed Ford.

He and the rest of the Kansas City Planning, Zoning, and Economic Development committee toured Kemper Arena on Thursday to get a feel for the condition of the facility.

"The city has $10 million in deferred maintenance on this building, we have virtually no tenants other than the American Royal, and we lose money in the lease agreement with the American Royal and operations costs and capital costs," said Ford.

The arena, built in 1974, hasn't been updated or utilized much since the Sprint Center was built, taking away from much of Kemper's revenue.

"We just can't get the promoters and show producers to bring events here because they want to be at the newer facility," said Oscar McGaskey, director of Kansas City Convention and Entertainment Facilities.

The council is now exploring options.

"One alternative that doesn't work for anyone is status quo. Another alternative is the one being proposed by the Foutch brothers to turn this into an amateur sports facility. The American Royal has a proposal that would require Kemper to be torn down and replaced by a 5,000 seat arena, and then the fourth alternative would be a combination maybe of two and three," adds Ford.

But some people feel the Kemper brings a sense of nostalgia, and had some good memories there.

"It's an iconic structure," said Bill Haw, the owner of the Livestock Exchange and 25 acres surrounding the Kemper arena.

He doesn't want to tear it down, but American Royal has a lease on Kemper until 2045.

"Our proposal over the remaining term of the lease saves the city about 15 percent over their current obligations," said Chase Simmons, the legal counsel for the American Royal.

He says it's too expensive to renovate the existing building, and makes more sense to spend the $7 million to tear it down and replace it with more purposeful facility. The council hopes to have a recommendation by September.

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