Monday, August 09, 2004

A Gehry in KC?

Hi-De-Ho Rene,

Last week, Kansas City, Mo., voters approved a tax package for a $250 million downtown arena, to be built in collaboration with (native Kansan) Phil Anschutz's AEG, known to you as the majority owner of the Staples Center, the LA Kings, and 30 percent of the Lakers. In exchange for some additional cash from the local telecom giant, it will be called the Sprint Center.

With the promise of an NHL or NBA franchise coming to town, and despite (or thanks to) opposition from St. Louis-based Enterprise Rent-a-Car, the ballot issue passed with 58 percent of the vote. The goal is to have the arena open in 2007. But who will build it?

KC is home to three of the top sports architecture firms in the country. My favorite Major League ballpark, Camden Yards, was the first of many retro baseball stadiums built by one firm. Of the last 28 major arenas built in the United States, 24 were designed by one of the rival firms. In an unusual move, they have combined forces for this project to form the Downtown Arena Design Team.

But then there's Frank Gehry, who is poised to take on his first arena project. It appears that AEG is keen on Gehry, and local politicos could have a problem on their hands.

It may come down to a choice between a local sports architecture brain trust and a "once-in-a-lifetime" chance for the city to land an icon of starchitecture (gotta love that term from David Sucher's City Comforts blog). I'm not sure which kind of pride will win out: Local talent, or international attention for a local project. I'm guessing the former, which is probably a good thing. I would be very interested to see what kind of arena Gehry would build for $250 million, but I'm not so sure his current style -- from Walt Disney Hall, which you have reviewed for us, to the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao -- could coexist with the rest of downtown KC.



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