Kemper Arena American Royal Center is a 19,500 seat indoor arena in Kansas City, Missouri, 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 was accidentally killed.
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.
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:
The arena won architectural awards in the 1970s and had three very prominent tenants:
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, the collapse 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 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 (architect). 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 Bottoms could not adequately handle the rapid runoff at 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.
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."
An investigation was conducted, and the issues were addressed and the arena reopened within a year.
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 the Sprint Center in 2007, Kansas is slated to play its Kansas City games there instead. Kansas won its likely final game at Kemper Arena by a score of 68–58 over Toledo on December 9, 2006.
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 the lower level seating, four restrooms, and a handicapped entrance to the arena.
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.