Archive for Tuesday, March 9, 2004

Hopes for downtown arena dwindle

March 9, 2004


— One year after a plan for a new downtown arena was to be unveiled, the plan is still not ready, and some are questioning whether Kansas City will ever be able to do the project.

Mayor Kay Barnes had promised to build the arena without a general tax increase or public referendum. Yet consultants and planners can't put together a solid financing plan without significant public funding, according to officials involved in the discussions.

"I don't know how you get from $0 to $200 million without some really creative financing, and I haven't seen that surface yet," said Bill Lucas, Greater Kansas City Sports Commission chairman.

An arena implementation committee has not met in months while it waits for a financial plan from the mayor.

The new arena plan gained steam 15 months ago when Barnes released a consultant's study on Kansas City's need for a new arena, compared with other cities.

The study concluded that a new Kansas City arena could attract more high-profile entertainment shows and retain major college tournaments. The study envisioned a 18,000- to 19,000-seat venue, costing $170 million to $200 million.

Barnes then announced a "phase two implementation committee" and set a March 31, 2003, deadline for that work.

When the March deadline passed, Barnes blamed delays on consultants. Arena committee members cited new state legislation that proposed allowing cities to use some state tax revenues for financing public projects in downtown areas, but the money could not be used for a large arena.

While that was happening, Barnes and other city officials also worked on complementary plans to develop a downtown headquarters for H&R; Block Inc. and create a restaurant-retail entertainment district. Barnes said those projects were interwoven with the arena's financing plan.

Then in December came the simultaneous announcements of a proposed skyscraper for H&R; Block downtown and a seven-block entertainment district adjoining it. No arena plan accompanied them.

Officials and analysts involved in the project have examined several sources, ranging from car rental taxes to restaurant taxes, from private-sector naming rights to income from a proposed college basketball hall of fame inside the new arena.

Still, a gap of tens of millions of dollars remains.

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