Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Kemper Arena: Too Cool to Live

What else can be said that PucKChaser did not already cover?

In the next two months, we will know the fate of the probably doomed Kemper Arena (spoiler: yeah, it's doomed).  One way or the other, Kemper (or the land once housing Kemper) will become a youth sports/agricultural boondoggle, and the city will be rid of the financial drain the arena has become.  

While its good that something is finally being done to the seldom used building, the maintenance costs will outweigh the cost to repurpose the land and almost guarantee Kemper Arena will not be around much longer.  As it stands, the American Royal and everyone's favorite Harvard-educated blonde down-home football captain Sporting Club want to tear down the building in favor of a redesigned, smaller building that would house agriculture events as well as youth sports.  Sporting Club was not originally part of this proposal, but was added as a partner to this because, well, the American Royal is selfish and wanted the land all to itself without any intention of using a new building for anything other than equestrian events.  Since the city actually wants people to come to this area and spend money, this original plan did not bode well for the AR.

Thankfully, other people had hopes of actually, ya know, bringing people to the West Bottoms.  The alternate plan is the Foutch Brothers proposal to convert the arena into an amateur sports complex that includes a desire to place the building on the National Register of Historic Places.  The arena can still be demolished, despite NRHP distinction.

The issue is not about architecture, so do not let anyone fool you.  Kemper is a one-of-its-kind building, different than the structures of its ilk being built at that time.  Today, it's still noticeable within the Kansas City landscape, and still as much a nod to postmodern architecture and the artsy distinction Kansas Citians love to brag about when talking about their city as it was when it was built.  Kemper's design is synonymous with other KC landmarks like the shuttlecocks and Bartle Hall pylons.  But this is not Corinthian Hall or Union Station, this is Kemper Arena.  An old, dusty arena, without enough architectural significance or real Kansas City "history" to save it.  And, if you remember, Kansas City does not have a problem demolishing one person's view of "architectural beauty" in favor of practical usage.

On the history issue, when people talk about Kemper, it's not about all of those Kings championships (there were none), or memorable Scouts games (there were only 20 wins in two years), it's the arena with one NCAA Tournament championship, Owen Hart, and a damn roof collapse that has haunted the building for most of its existence.  Oh, and that one time David Arquette betrayed Diamond Dallas Page to help Jeff Jarrett win a triple cage match and win the WCW World Heavyweight Championship.  That was truly awful.

No, Kemper did everything asked for it, and then some.  Kansas City has only had one NHL team, one NBA team, and one Presidential Convention, all housed in the arena.  But, unlike those old renovated and currently renovating structures around town, Kemper has one purpose – host athletic events and concerts – and some believe it is either too big, too expensive, or too futile to use it in that way.  Personally, I do not want to see Kemper razed, but using the land for nothing is wasteful.  You have a historic stockyards district with the American Royal right next door.  The potential is there for something – obviously not a major concert and sport venue – but for something.

Whatever the Council decides, the arena's future and legacy will mean another area for youth sports in the city, and a practical use for an otherwise unused district.  Unfortunately for the distinctive building, this fate could also bring its demise.

* * * 

One more note: In the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey – home of the New Jersey Devils née Colorado Rockies née Kansas City Scouts – are murals/banners devoted to the organization's past.  One features the two former homes, McNichols Arena in Denver and Kemper Arena.  
photo courtesy: some message board online somewhere, i don't remember where, sue me
That's pretty cool, right?!  Yeah, pretty cool.  Except take a close look at this photo:
Remember when every sporting stadium or arena was a "Memorial"?  Those were weird days.
This is what Kemper Arena looked like for most of its active life, and in 1974-76 when the Scouts played in the arena.  The glass eastern exterior – as seen on the arena today, and in the photo on the mural in New Jersey – was not added until 1997, nearly thirty years after the Scouts left.  So, the New Jersey mural is not entirely accurate.  Also, and this is a bit nit-picky, but the phenomenon of sports fans wearing jerseys of their favorite players was not prevalent in the 1970s, so it's unlikely that anyone would have worn a Wilf Paiement sweater inside Kemper Arena unless their name was indeed Wilf Paiement.

But, hey, thanks for the cool picture thing, New Jersey!

As a thank you, let's all sing along to the state song of New Jersey:

1 comment:

  1. Ah, but you left out the 1991 Tommy Morrison-Pinklon Thomas fight. You know when Thomas, an actual contender at one time, lost the fifth fight in his string of five losses in six fights. Thomas went on to become a first rate palooka fighting nobodys throughout the Southeast. Morrison went on to...well...