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Archive for Thursday, May 13, 2004

Faithful KU benefactor to aid K.C. arena effort

May 13, 2004

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— A Kansas University benefactor whose name graces several campus buildings has pledged $50 million to help build a new downtown arena.

Mayor Kay Barnes announced Wednesday that a company controlled by Philip Anschutz, the Denver billionaire who owns part of the Los Angeles Lakers and several teams in Major League Soccer, also has promised to use its contacts within the NBA and NHL to lure a franchise from one of the leagues to Kansas City to act as the arena's major tenant.

"I can assure you that there will be an anchor tenant," said Timothy Leiweke, vice president of the Los Angeles-based Anschutz Entertainment Group. "We have had conversations specifically with those leagues' franchises. I don't think there's a better time to get involved with a National Hockey League team than now."

Anschutz Entertainment Group's other holdings include Los Angeles' Staples Center arena and the NHL's Los Angeles Kings.

The $225 million-$250 million arena will be called the Sprint Center, after the suburban Overland Park, Kan.-based telecommunications firm, which has agreed to purchase naming rights of the 18,500 to 20,000 seat arena. Terms of the naming rights deal are still under discussion, said Gary Forsee, Sprint Corp.'s chairman and chief executive.

Barnes said the arena would be designed to include retail shops and restaurants that would be open even when the arena was not playing host to an event.

The National Association of Basketball Coaches also will invest $10 million in the project and move its headquarters from Overland Park to the facility and open a college basketball hall of fame on site.

Private contributions will cover nearly half of the arena's total cost. The rest will come from assorted tax credits and license fees, including a $1.50 per-occupied-room per-day hotel fee and $4 per-day fee on rental cars. Barnes said the project wouldn't break ground until voters approved those two new fees, which will appear on the August ballot.

"So far, these years of effort for a new arena have been a marathon," Barnes said. "But now, we're going to sprint to the finish line."

Barnes said the city would accept design proposals from mid-June until mid-August.

A consortium of several Kansas City-based sports architecture firms -- including HOK Sport+Venue+Event and Ellerbe Becket Inc. -- have said they plan to bid for the arena's design contract. Also expected to bid is a group led by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry.

Anschutz, a Kansas native, graduated in 1961 from KU in business administration and founded Denver-based Qwest Communications International Inc.

He has donated more than $10 million to KU, and two buildings, Anschutz Library and Anschutz Sports Pavilion, are named for his family.

His contributions in the past 25 years include $6.5 million to create an endowment for libraries; $1 million for the Dole Institute of Politics; $750,000 for student scholarships; and $500,000 for an endowed business professorship. He also donated to the Adams Alumni Center and for an addition to Summerfield Hall. The family donated $1.4 million for the sports pavilion.

Anschutz received the Fred Ellsworth Medallion -- the top service award given by the Alumni Association -- in 1984.

The new arena would replace 30-year-old Kemper Arena, which is located in the old stockyards area west of downtown. For years the exclusive site of the Big Eight and, later, the Big 12 Conference basketball tournaments, Kemper also was the site of the NCAA Final Four in 1988.

The Big 12 men's basketball tournament will return next year to Kemper Arena, and Barnes had said plans for a new arena would be in place before league officials began to weigh bids for the future postseason basketball tournaments.

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