Woody Carter’s business is scheduling events in the newly renovated and rebranded Hy-Vee Arena.
Business is brisk.
“For 2019, we have six weekend days where there’s nothing on the books yet,” Carter, the arena’s events and sales manager, said Nov. 7. “We’re doing well, getting large tournaments. It’s a wonderful, multi-use space.”
The former Kemper Arena — once host to professional basketball, hockey and soccer games, Final Fours and music legends from Cher to Frank Sinatra — has been given a second life as a site for youth and adult sports after a $39 million investment by Foutch Brothers LLC. The 44-year-old structure also will offer office and retail space as well as restaurants and other amenities.
AT THE STARTING LINE
The revamped structure opened for sporting events in September, but many of its new tenants are still building their locations, said Carter, who noted that 80 percent of the arena’s space had been leased.
The arena, which has courts on two levels, can offer 12 basketball or volleyball courts or 24 pickleball courts. Carter said the arena also will host events for other sports, including gymnastics and wrestling.
Hy-Vee Arena will be a hotspot for youth activities during the weekends and will be used for adult recreational sports at night. KC Crew owner Luke Wade said his organization is scheduling adult basketball, volleyball and pickleball leagues at the arena five nights a week.
KC Crew has about 15,000 adults participating in its leagues, Wade said. The group’s indoor games had been scattered across a handful of community centers. Now all that activity has been moved under one roof.
“You can play a game and have a beer after,” said Wade, who planned to move his offices to the arena. “It’s a cool, historic place that’s being repurposed.”
A MULTI-USE SPACE
With youth sports on the weekends and adult sports at night, the Hy-Vee courts will see plenty of action. But Carter said the arena also plans to sell gym memberships that would allow people to use the courts during open periods and provide access to the arena’s new fitness center, locker rooms and 350-meter track. He said memberships will cost $65 a month for individuals or $90 for families.
Thalia Cherry, president and CEO of Cherry Sports Gear, said the arena was the “perfect fit” for her 6-year-old sports apparel company, which plans to open its first brick-and-mortar location there in January.
“You can feel the energy and the vibe,” said Cherry. “This could be the next revitalized community in Kansas City.”
Cherry said her store will offer gear for fans of the Chiefs, Royals and local colleges, but the arena location also will offer her company an opportunity to market uniforms.
“It’s the right audience for us,” she said. “It offers sports. It’s old and new mixed together.
“I remember my parents taking me to so many events there. Not just Kemper but the restaurants that were there at the time. It’s very nostalgic. Everybody has a story there. That’s what’s beautiful about it.”
Carter said the arena will be home to several restaurants. All American Diner, Cool Beans, Longboards and The Smoothie Shop already are on board, and he said other contracts were being finalized. The expectation he said, is to land a pizza place and a barbecue restaurant.
“We want to be full-tilt by mid-December,” he said.
The arena also will offer an arcade.
“We want to cater to everyone,” Carter said.
‘A COOL OFFICE LOCATION’
Carter said not all the businesses coming to the arena are connected to sports. He said there are tenants that offer irrigation equipment, snow removal, lawn care and a boutique, among others.
“It’s a cool office location,” he said.
Wise Power Inc. plans to move from its Overland Park location to the arena by mid-January. But the new location will be far more than just an office for the energy storage and technology firm.
Wise Power is creating a nearly 9,000-square-foot Wise Power Lounge with 14 virtual reality simulators, said Brittany Williams, who will own and operate the lounge, which also will offer food and drinks. The simulators will offer a wide range of sports, including golf, basketball, football, soccer and hockey, as well as carnival games, target shooting and zombie dodgeball.
The lounge also will serve as a demonstration site for Wise Power, which will provide supplementary power for the arena, said Wise Power CEO — and Brittany’s father — Kevin Williams. The elder Williams said the company is installing solar panels on a 40-space carport, and visitors will be able to monitor how much energy is created and stored from those panels.
“We already had a business plan for a golf simulator lounge,” Brittany Williams said. “This was a perfect opportunity. It’s a great fit for both businesses. It’s nothing short of amazing what’s been done with the building. It’s something Kansas City needs, especially the youth. This is definitely something that will revitalize the West Bottoms. We’re happy to be part of it.”
‘THE AREA HAS REALLY TURNED A CORNER’
The Hy-Vee Arena projects coincides with a $26.7 million, mixed-use project by Flaherty & Collins that will build more than 230 luxury apartments and 5,500 square feet of retail space in the West Bottoms. Dubbed “The Yards,” the development is adjacent to the Livestock Exchange Building.
“In general, there’s a lot of momentum in the area, and the arena is certainly part of that,” said Bill Haw Jr., owner of Haw Contemporary, the Stockyards District art gallery. “It’s a super ambitious project. I don’t think something like this has been done, repurposing a large arena. They’re usually just knocked down. If they get the numbers they’re talking about — 1,000 people a day — it’s going to be a big impact on some businesses.”
Haw and his father, Bill Sr., own five West Bottoms properties between them, including the massive Livestock Exchange. They are keeping a keen eye on the arena development.
“Kemper hadn’t been effectively utilized for long time,” Haw said. “No area can thrive on just events unless you have an event three or four nights a week. Hy-Vee Arena is going to provide regular traffic, and a lot of businesses will benefit from that.”
Haw said his father owns 25 acres of undeveloped land between the Kansas River and the Livestock Exchange, which raises an interesting question: What’s next for the West Bottoms?
“When the right thing comes along, we look forward to developing that as well,” he said. “Something unique. Not cookie cutter. The area has really turned a corner. We went to keep the momentum going and help guide it to be something special not just another planned development.”