View Full Version : KC Star: Arena dream gets wake-up call

04-22-2005, 03:58 AM
Hopes for ‘world-class' design may take a back seat to budget


By KEVIN COLLISON The Kansas City Star

Expectations raised last year that the Sprint Center arena would feature a “world-class” exterior design are being lowered as architects struggle to meet its construction budget.

The $250 million arena project, partly financed by rental car and hotel fees, includes $140 million slated for hard construction costs. But sources close to the project say designers are struggling to close a construction financing gap approaching $20 million.

Nobody connected with the project is saying the arena will fall short of being suitable for a potential NBA or NHL franchise. But the aesthetics on the outside — an integral part of the push to build an arena last summer — may prove to be less than advertised.

Kansas City Mayor Kay Barnes, who has staked much of her prestige on the project, on Thursday acknowledged that the building is unlikely to meet its goal of being completed by the time she leaves office in April 2007.

“We knew from the beginning the goal of early April was a very tight frame,” Barnes said. “It may need to go past that a few months.”

While site preparation work is under way at 14th Street and Grand Boulevard, a final design for the 18,500-seat building has yet to be completed.

Architects met again this week with city officials and Anschutz Entertainment Group to reach an accord on what would be an affordable design. Although close, the design job still is not done.

City officials have ordered design professionals not to discuss the project. Barnes, however, said she was pleased with the progress.

“I'm very excited about what appears to be a final design,” she said. “We've made some adjustments and (the construction manager) will do cost assessments. … With these big projects, on almost a daily basis, there are changes.”

Last summer, civic leaders and the public were captivated by a fierce arena design competition that pitted an all-star team of local sports architecture firms against a group led by renowned architect Frank Gehry.

The Gehry group promised to break the “cookie-cutter” approach to arena design, while the local team said it could come up with something functional that would be architecturally exciting. There even was talk the design might be appealing enough itself to be a tourism attraction.

The local group comprised of HOK Sport+Event+Venue, 360 Architecture and Ellerbe Becket and calling itself the Downtown Arena Design Team, eventually won the work early last fall. They wowed a city selection panel with a flashy audio-visual presentation that showed a design resembling a giant glass flying saucer lit up with state-of-the-art electronic imagery.

But almost immediately, the “Dream Team” of local designers began distancing itself from the presentation that won them the job, saying it was only a concept.

Complicating the design issue was a seven-week delay in hiring a construction manager for the project. M.A. Mortenson, a Minneapolis firm, was chosen by a city panel in early December, but the recommendation proved controversial and was not approved by the City Council until Jan. 27.

In the meantime, the design team was unable to receive feedback about how much its ideas would cost.

The budget added to the difficulties of meeting the world-class goal. The overall total is about $250 million, but only $140 million is allocated for construction with an additional $23 million set aside for interior equipment and furnishings. The remainder is for design and engineering fees, site acquisition and preparation, and a contingency account

Although that is a sizable amount, comparable to new arenas in Memphis, Tenn., and Charlotte, N.C., it is well below the $420 million spent for the showcase American Airlines Center in Dallas.

The cost of basic materials, such as steel and concrete, also has been rising steadily. Average construction costs for major projects climbed 10 percent last year and are projected to increase at least an additional 5 percent this year, according to Terry Dunn, president of J.E. Dunn Construction.

When the Downtown Arena Design Team finally did show its preliminary design to Mortenson, there was a $10 million to $20 million gap between what the design team was pursuing and what the budget could afford, according to Herb Kohn, an attorney who helped negotiate the arena deal between the city and AEG.

Faced with a funding gap, the architects returned to the drawing board. They presented revised designs in mid-March but were rejected on aesthetic grounds.

March also was not a great month for team spirit on the Downtown Arena Design Team.

The March 3 defection of five top architects from Ellerbe Becket to HOK prompted Ellerbe to file a lawsuit. Ellerbe accused HOK of violating a handshake agreement barring the partners from recruiting staff from one another during their joint effort. Both firms insisted the conflict would not disrupt their arena work.

Riding herd on costs is AEG, the Los Angeles firm that is investing $50 million in the project and has responsibility for cost overruns. In return, AEG will manage the building and is guaranteed the return of its original investment and a 16 percent profit after expenses, with any profits above that split on a 50-50 basis with the city.

“Obviously, Anschutz is very involved,” said Kevin Gray, president of the Kansas City Sports Commission. “They have a game plan of what they think they need. It's the architects getting together with Anschutz and Sprint and making sure all the needs are met.”

Budget pressures also have forced the National Association of Basketball Coaches to reduce the size of the planned National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame, which is part of the arena plan. The facility was originally intended to be 60,000 square feet and is now slated at 40,000 square feet, said Jim Haney, executive director of the association.

Haney said the change would not affect the experience that visitors should enjoy at what is being described as a national attraction.

“We want to provide an experience for fans that will be fun and will celebrate and experience basketball rather that simply looking at people who made a mark,” Haney said.

Sprint Corp., which will pay up to $2.5 million annually for the arena naming rights, also is most interested in the arena's interior.

“Basically, Sprint's focus has been on assuring the best fan experience through utilization of our communication technologies,” said Jennifer Bosshardt, a company spokeswoman.

At this point, nobody is saying the arena budget may have to be increased. City Manager Wayne Cauthen. however, would not rule out that possibility.

“If we're not getting what we want at $250 million, then we'd have to go ahead and ask the question if there is any other way for the budget to be increased,” he said. “We have a dedicated tax. We have AEG as a partner. We know where the dollars are.”

While the arena design is uncertain, the city is in good shape in terms of acquiring the site and preparing it for construction. The budget allotted $35 million for that work, and Blake Ellis, the program manager, said that will be more than enough.

“We're not out of whack in any way with the city piece,” he said.

keg in kc
04-22-2005, 04:05 AM
Not a huge surprise with the increases in the cost of steel and cement the article mentioned. I can't say I liked reading this, though:But almost immediately, the “Dream Team” of local designers began distancing itself from the presentation that won them the job, saying it was only a concept.I thought the following was the case, nice to see it again in print.Riding herd on costs is AEG, the Los Angeles firm that is investing $50 million in the project and has responsibility for cost overruns.

04-22-2005, 06:54 AM
I'll be pissed if this is just another ugly Kemper!

04-22-2005, 07:06 AM
If they build it, it'll be worth it. We just put the Qwest Center here in Omaha less than two years ago, and it is making money hand over fist...

...in fact, forget what I said. Tell people to come to Omaha for their conventions. Our zoo kicks ass...

04-22-2005, 07:07 AM
Based on this article, and Peterson's recent remarks about Chiefs Fans, how can anyone possibly vote yes on the Truman Sports Complex tax vote this coming fall? :banghead: