Kansas City, Mo. — Frank Gehry, the architectural superstar best know for designing the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, has visited the site of a proposed downtown arena and plans to compete for the contract to design the facility.
"He's very committed to this job," said David Murphy, a partner with Crawford Architects, which has offices in Kansas City and Australia, and would partner with Gehry on the project.
Gehry's competition couldn't be stiffer. Kansas City is home to several of the world's leading sports architecture firms, which have joined together as the "Downtown Area Design Team" to compete for the project.
"We compete every day for projects all over the country, if not the world," said Rick Martin, senior principal at HOK Sport+Venue+Event, which joined with firms Ellerbe Becket, CDFM2 and Heinlein Schrock Stearns to form the Downtown Area Design Team.
The firms have designed sports facilities across the nation and around the world, including the new Wembley Stadium in London and Petco Park in San Diego (HOK); Boston's FleetCenter and the renovations at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. (Ellerbe Becket); and a new stadium for the New York Jets (Heinlein Schrock Stearns).
"We're excited about collaborating to bring the best talent in the world to design the best arena in the world and showcase our talents," Martin said.
Mayor Kay Barnes announced plans to pursue a new downtown arena in December 2002, but has yet to announce any financing plans for the project. Barnes said recently those details should be ready later this month, as Big 12 officials begin to weigh bids for the league's future postseason basketball tournaments.
Barnes said the she expected a request for design proposals to be issued early this summer.
"Frank Gehry is a world-renowned architect, and we in Kansas City can be flattered at his interest," Barnes said.
City officials have talked about a financing package with about 70 percent of the money coming from public funds. That would mean a mix of taxes, fees and surcharges, some of which would require voter approval.
Gehry's Guggenheim Museum, which opened in 1997, is an undulating design fashioned from titanium, limestone and glass, with few straight lines. His similar Walt Disney Concert Hall opened last year in Los Angeles. Other Gehry projects include a performing arts center at Bard College in New York and the business school at Cleveland's Case Western Reserve University.
"We pitched it to Frank because Kansas City, by all accounts, is the capital of sports architecture," said Murphy, who described Gehry as a "sports nut."
"Sports architecture today has become cookie cutter," Murphy said. "If we were to team with Frank Gehry we could break new ground and take it to the next level."
In addition to providing a new approach to sports architecture, Murphy said an arena designed by Gehry, a past winner of the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize, could become a major tourist attraction for Kansas City.
"We've had economic models done that show how the building could be paid for and how much tourism it could bring in," he said. "It's amazing."
The new arena would replace 30-year-old Kemper Arena, which is located in the old stockyards area near the Missouri River. For years the exclusive site of the Big Eight and, later, the Big 12 basketball tournaments, Kemper also played host to the NCAA Final Four in 1988.
But development of newer arenas elsewhere has left Kansas City searching for ways to provide a more attractive venue, and city leaders have been pushing for a new facility.