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Kemper Arena American Royal Center is a 19,500 seat indoor arena in Kansas City, Missourimarker, USA, that has hosted NCAA Final Four basketball games, professional basketball and hockey teams, the 1976 Republican National Convention, a 1976 Paul McCartney & Wings concert, and is the ongoing host of the American Royal livestock show. It was also in this arena that wrestling superstar Owen Hart accidentally died.

It is named for R. Crosby Kemper Sr., a member of the powerful Kemper financial clan and who donated $3.2 million from his estate for the arena.


Helmut Jahn's first major project rises from the stockyards

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 Bottomsmarker to replace the 8,000-seat Municipal Auditoriummarker 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. Around the Horn's Kevin Blackistone called Kemper Arena a "dump," when talking about the Big 12 Tournament being moved from Kemper.

The building cost $22 million and is owned by the city of Kansas City, Missouri. Financing came from seven sources:
  • $5.6 million dollars from general obligation bonds
  • $3.2 million dollars donated by R. Crosby Kemper Sr.
  • $575,000 dollars from bond interest
  • $1.5 million dollars donated by the American Royal Association
  • Land provided by the Kansas City Stockyards Company
  • $10 million dollars from revenue bonds in conjunction with the Jackson Countymarker Sports Authority
  • $2 million dollars in federal grants for street work

Glory days in the 1970s

The arena won architectural awards in the 1970s and had four very prominent tenants:

1979 roof collapse

On June 4, 1979 at 6:45 p.m., a major storm with 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 collapsemarker -- shocked the city and the architecture world.

The American Institute of Architectsmarker had given the building an "Honor" award in 1976[74100] and thousands of its members were at its annual national conference there less than 24 hours before the 1979 collapse. Further, the collapse coupled with the January 18, 1978, collapse of the Hartford Civic Centermarker from heavy snow in the early morning hours just after a University of Connecticutmarker basketball game 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.

First, the roof had been designed to gradually release rainwater as the sewers in the West Bottomsmarker could not adequately handle the rapid runoff because of the nearby confluence of the Missouri Rivermarker and Kansas Rivermarker. This caused the downpour to "pond" (where water fills in as the roof sagged) adding to the weight.

Second, there had been a miscalculation on the strength of the bolts on the hangers when subjected to the 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 × 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.

College basketball mecca

In the 1980s the arena became famed for its basketball tournaments including:

Allen Fieldhouse East

Kemper Arena has always had a special and close relationship with the University of Kansas Jayhawks men's basketball team. The team has 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 Fieldhousemarker is itself approximately 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".

The Jayhawks have compiled an 80–24 record at Kemper, including wins in the 1988 national championship game and the 1997, 1998 and 1999 Big 12 championships. With the opening of Sprint Center in 2007, Kansas plays its Kansas City games there instead. Kansas won its likely final game at Kemper Arena by a score of 68–58 over Toledomarker on December 9, 2006.

Other professional sports

1999 death of WWF superstar Owen Hart and aftermath

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 this very arena on August 26, 1999, WWE debuted their new show called SmackDown! on UPN.

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.

American Royal

The American Royal Association has hosted livestock events at Kemper 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.



The facilities are managed by AEG. Facilities in the complex include:
  • Hale Arena – 5,000 seat capacity (17,000 sq ft.)
  • Kemper Arena – 19,500 seat capacity
  • The Governor’s Building – .
  • Lower Level Exhibition Hall – .
  • Upper Level Exhibition Hall – .
  • Wagstaff Theatre – 450 seat capacity
  • The American Royal Museum
  • Scott Pavilion – permanent dirt floor animal warm up area
  • West Bottoms Garage – 995 spaces
  • Six Surface Parking Lots – approximately 4,500 spaces

See also

West Bottomsmarker


  1. NCAA Basketball - Toledo Rockets/Kansas Jayhawks Recap Saturday December 9, 2006 - Yahoo! Sports

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