Kemper’s Future Unclear

The future of Kemper Arena in Kansas City became more clouded after the city decided to end its current management contract early and stop promoting the aging arena for major events.

The Kansas City Council on Thursday ended Anschutz Entertainment Group’s contract to manage the arena six months early, which will save the city an estimated $400,000 a year in running the arena and the American Royal Complex, which has been losing $1.6 million a year.

Kemper, which in its heyday hosted rock concerts, the Final Four and numerous other popular events, has been declining for years but its use dropped dramatically since 2007, when the Sprint Center opened in downtown Kansas City. AEG also manages the Sprint Center.

The city will not seek to book any events at Kemper except for some American Royal events and other programs that are already scheduled, The Kansas City Star reported.

In 2010, Kemper hosted just 13 events covering 29 days, not counting American Royal events. In 2011, it hosted 16 events over 30 days. This year, it has hosted 10 events over 22 days.

“It has been very challenging for AEG to bring events at Kemper Arena and increase the revenues when promoters are insistent they want to go to the Sprint Center,” said Oscar McGaskey, director of the city’s convention and entertainment facilities. “I know that for a fact because I’ve talked to promoters.”

The AEG management contract for Kemper and the American Royal Center, which was scheduled to expire in December, will instead end Saturday, to allow for a smooth transition back to city control.

The city still must pay AEG the remaining $126,000 in management fees but the closing will allow the city to save on utilities, staffing and other costs, McGaskey said. Kemper’s annual utility costs already exceed $405,000, and the city had been told to expect a 13 percent increase later this year.

The city can’t close or demolish Kemper because it has a contract through 2045 with the American Royal Association, which includes the use of Kemper.

The American Royal board has proposed replacing Kemper with a 5,000-seat equestrian center but funding for the proposed $70 million project is unsettled. But some preservationists want the city to preserve Kemper and find new uses for it.