By Kevin Collison
A year after the Hy-Vee Arena amateur sports center opened in the West Bottoms following a $39 million redevelopment, it’s still invisible when it comes to downtown highway signage.
Signs continue to refer to Kemper Arena, which essentially went dark with the opening of the Sprint Center in 2007, and that seriously outdated situation may not change anytime soon.
“The highway signs would be a big help for drivers,” said Hy-Vee Arena developer Steve Foutch.
“People coming here for a reason know about it and can Google it, but it’s the awareness of the 90 percent of Kansas City that doesn’t read the papers or know what we have to offer that I’m worried about.”
And every bit of business would help.
Making a major investment to inject new life in a vacant big arena like Kemper isn’t something that has happened much in the United States.
More often than not, old municipal arenas are demolished when their shiny new replacement like Sprint Center comes along. But Foutch believed he had a better solution than seeing Kemper demolished.
His redevelopment transformed the old arena by dividing it in half, inserting a second floor in its middle large enough to accommodate eight basketball courts. The original floor below includes four basketball courts.
The Hy-Vee Arena business plan calls for it to be a hub of youth and adult sports leagues, a fitness club for downtown (it features a five-lane, 350 meter track around the upper rim) and collegiate track and field practice facility.
So far, it hasn’t worked out as well as Foutch originally planned.
“We didn’t hit the numbers we hoped we’d hit, but most businesses have a rough first year,” he said. “It’s a big project and we do have a lot of positive momentum.
“We have good reserves and we haven’t had to dip into it and I hope not to.”
Having signs that actually tell people how to get to his business in the Bottoms would help.
Foutch said he reached out to the city manager’s office for help on getting the road signs updated and was told a request would be made to the Missouri Department of Transportation.
Ericka Ross, traffic operations engineer for MoDOT, said she wasn’t aware of any request to change the signs. Complicating matters further, Ross said MoDOT doesn’t really do destination signs for tourist attractions and businesses.
The blue destination signs identifying various attractions such as the Kauffman Center or Crown Center–or Kemper Arena–are the responsibility of the city, she said.
“The blue ones are installed at the city’s cost although we allow them on our right-of-way,” Ross said.
There are a few older Kemper Arena signs in green that were installed before the current MoDOT contract system went into place. Now, a 10-year contract is he norm for erecting and maintaining signs along the highway.
“It can easily cost a few thousand dollars for signs,” Ross said. “We’re not talking about a couple hundred dollars.
“If the city or somebody reaches out, we’d be more than happy to have that conversation.”
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