Missouri’s Buildings Immemorial, And The Right Place For Preservation
Now in its twelfth year, the program has sought to bring statewide attention to endangered places through a media campaign and offers support services to the properties on the list.
The list is a good one overall, calling attention to some notable structures that with some love and money — emphasis on money — could be saved.
But there seems to me to be one significant outlier in the mix: Kemper Arena, Kansas City’s 1970s-era predecessor to the new Sprint Center downtown. The cavernous space hosts few events these days since Sprint opened, and even the family of the arena’s namesake is calling for the place to be torn down. (It is worth noting that our Chairman of the Board (who also is a Show-Me co-founder) is a Kemper, although I have not discussed this issue with him.)
Is Kemper Arena historic? Sure. It housed the 1976 Republican National Convention, countless sporting events, and served as the backdrop of some of the greatest rodeos and barbecues in the country. But does that, therefore, mean it is off limits for demolition, if it comes to that? No.
State-underwritten historic preservation efforts, particularly in and around Saint Louis, have been operating with an open throttle for more than a decade now, with the state issuing more than $1 billion in tax credits for preservation since 1999. As obvious preservation projects have dwindled, the preservation net has widened in some cases to simply keep the subsidies pumping. But are we saving historic buildings, or just saving — and oftentimes subsidizing — aging properties under the pretext of historic preservation? Shouldn’t that blurring distinction bother preservationists?
As a born-and-bred Kansas Citian, a movement to save Kemper absent a plan the private market would embrace would be mystifying to me. There is a difference between advocating for ingenious uses of old properties and trying to force old and obsolete properties on the community for all time. I support the former. I am not keen on the latter. Indispensable history is all around us, but not every building is indispensable.
Kemper Arena has certainly had some fine days, and to the extent Missouri Preservation is highlighting that history, the organization should be applauded. But while Kemper has had historic days, much like so many buildings of its kind, that does not mean it should stand until the end of days.
Preservation has a place. It’s just not every place.