It is named for R. Crosby Kemper Sr., a member of the powerful Kemper financial family who donated $3.2 million, from his estate for the arena. Its previous most recent tenant was the American Royal livestock show, which held its annual livestock show there until 2010, when it moved to the nearby Sprint Center.
Having been essentially supplanted by Sprint Center, which opened in 2007, plans were announced in 2011 to raze the arena and replace it with an Agricultural Events Center which would include a 5,000-seat coliseum. Kemper Arena temporarily reopened as the Kansas City Renegades of the Champions Professional Indoor Football League made the arena their home in 2013, but the team folded after the season ended.
The original concept for the arena in 1972 was to replace the aging American Royal Arena just south of the new Arena that was used for animal shows. However city officials looking to attract a professional basketball and hockey team changed the scope to be a new state of the art arena.
Kemper Arena was built in 18 months in 1973–74 on the site of the former Kansas City Stockyards just west of downtown in the West Bottoms to replace the 8,000-seat Municipal Auditorium to play host to the city's professional basketball and hockey teams. The arena was the first major project of German architect Helmut Jahn who was to go on to become an important architect of his era.
The building was revolutionary in its simplicity and the fact it did not have interior columns obstructing views. Its roof is suspended by exterior steel trusses. The nearly windowless structure contrasts to Jahn's later signature style of providing wide open glass enclosed spaces. Kemper's exterior skeleton style was to be used extensively throughout Jahn's other projects.
The building cost $22 million and is owned by the city of Kansas City, Missouri. Financing came from seven sources:
On June 4, 1979, at 6:45 p.m., a major storm with 70 mph (110 km/h) winds and heavy rains caused a portion of Kemper Arena's roof to collapse. Since the arena was not in use at the time, no one was injured. The collapse—three years after the hall had hosted the 1976 Republican National Convention—along with another Kansas City structural failure—the 1981 Hyatt Regency walkway collapse—shocked the city and the architecture world.
The American Institute of Architects had given the building an "Honor" award in 1976 and thousands of its members were at its annual national conference there less than 24 hours before the 1979 collapse. Further, coupled with the January 18, 1978, collapse of the Hartford Civic Center from heavy snow in the early morning hours just after a University of Connecticut basketball game, this collapse prompted architects to seriously reconsider computer models used to determine the safety of arenas.
The arena was one of the first major projects by influential architect Helmut Jahn who was to take over the Murphy/Jahn firm founded by Charles Murphy. Steel trusses that hung from three huge portals supported the reinforced concrete roof. Design elements had called for compensating for winds that caused the roof to swing like a pendulum. The exterior skeleton design had been considered revolutionary in its simplicity (it was built in 18 months).
Two major factors came together on June 4, to cause the collapse.The first factor was that the roof had been designed to gradually release rainwater as the sewers in the West Bottoms could not adequately handle the rapid runoff because of the nearby confluence of the Missouri River and Kansas River. This caused the downpour to "pond" (where water fills in as the roof sagged) adding to the weight. The second factor was that there had been a miscalculation on the strength of the bolts on the hangers when subjected to the 70 mph (110 km/h) winds while supporting the additional rainwater weight as the roof swung back and forth. Once one of the bolts gave way there was a cascading failure on the south side of the roof. Although the bolts were enormous, the media was to make much of the fact that "one broken bolt caused the collapse."
Approximately one acre, or 200 ft (61 m) × 215 ft (66 m) of roof collapsed. The air pressure, increased by the rapidly falling roof, caused some of the walls to blow out. However, the portals remained undamaged. An investigation was conducted, and the issues were addressed and the arena reopened within a year.
1990s additions and renovations
Additional American Royal livestock buildings were built adjoining Kemper in 1991–92 at a cost of $33.4 million (the City of Kansas City built the original American Royal Arena in 1922 nearby for about $650,000)
In 1997, a $23 million expansion made significant changes to the original Jahn design—most notably a glass enclosed east lobby. Other changes include: 2,000 more seats, upgraded lower-level seating, four restrooms, and a handicapped entrance to the arena.
2007 opening of the new Sprint Center
In 2007, Sprint Center opened. Virtually all events moved to the new arena. The building was turned over to the American Royal for its annual October events.
In the 1980s the arena became famed for its basketball tournaments including:
Kemper Arena has always had a special and close relationship with the University of Kansas Jayhawks men's basketball team. The team traditionally played at least one game a year in Kemper. As there are many Kansas alumni in the Kansas City metro area, and Kansas's usual home venue of Allen Fieldhouse is itself approximately 40 miles (64 km) away, the crowd favors the Jayhawks heavily. As a result, opposing coaches (notably Billy Tubbs, whose team lost the 1988 NCAA championship to Kansas there) have often referred to Kemper as "Allen Fieldhouse East".
On May 23, 1999, Kemper Arena hosted the WWF (now WWE) pay-per-view Over the Edge, where WWF superstar Owen Hart fell to his death from the rafters after attempting to descend while in his super hero gimmick of The Blue Blazer. A few months later, Owen's brother, Bret Hart and longtime friend Chris Benoit had a tribute match in honor of Owen at Kemper Arena on WCW Monday Nitro. In the arena on August 26, 1999, the WWF debuted their new show called SmackDown!on UPN.
On May 7, 2000 WCW Slamboree 2000 was held at Kemper Arena. This was two weeks short of one year after Owen Hart fell to his death in the same arena.
In July 2011, the American Royal announced that it was moving its rodeo—the biggest event of the American Royal—to Sprint Center, starting with the 2011 fall events. The announcement noted Sprint Center would be a bigger performers to the event, leaving the Kemper Arena without any major events. Three months later, American Royal and the Kemper family announced plans to raze the arena and replace it with the 5,000-seat purpose-built Agricultural Events Center to be designed by Populous to feature dirt events and space for animal stalls and an open-sided show ring. The American Royal building adjacent to Kemper Arena would remain. Cost was cited as the major reason for the razing, as it would cost Kansas City $40 million per year until 2046 to operate it and another $20 million to upgrade it, along with the fact that no city has successfully maintained two large arenas. The proposed site is proposed to be a centerpiece of the Animal Health Corridor initiative. Renderings of the new building shows the Hereford Association Bull being prominently used. The bull statue had been a Kansas City landmark on Quality Hill for more than 60 years.
The American Royal Association has hosted livestock events at Kemper Arena since it was first constructed. The Royal also helped pay for the original building. Its office is located in the building along with the American Royal Museum. The American Royal Association is home to the American Royal Horse Show, Livestock Show, and Rodeo and which hosts a six-week festival each October to November.
Rush — February 27, 1980, with Roadmaster, April 23–24, 1981, October 15–16, 1982, with Rory Gallagher, June 16, 1984, with Gary Moore, April 29, 1986, with Blue Öyster Cult, April 7, 1988, with The Rainmakers, March 3, 1990, with Mr. Big, May 23, 1992, with Mr. Big and April 5, 1994, with Primus
Van Halen — August 22, 1980, with The Katz, October 17, 1981, with G–Force, August 7, 1982, with After the Fire, June 20–21, 1984, with The Velcros, May 30–31, 1986, with Bachman–Turner Overdrive and July 26, 2004, with Shinedown
Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band — October 22–23, 1980, May 19, 1983, March 21, 1996 and December 2, 2006, with Eric Church