Thursday, July 24, 2008

Review: The Sprint Center

Kansas City has been without an NBA or NHL team for decades. One of the reasons for that has been the lack of a large enough arena to make the revenue streams attractive. Finally, after the city decided the mostly dead downtown Kansas City was in need of rejuvenation, The Sprint Center was commissioned. The concept of the "if you build it, they will come" mentality would surely result in a professional team being lured to a new home. As of last year, after all of the preparation, the decision of the location, the design of the structure, the securing of funds, the construction, the finishing touches and, as of last year, the opening of Kansas City's glorious new arena... no team has taken the bait. Instead of just having a brand-new, state-of-the-art venue sitting vacant, The Sprint Center is used for concerts and the crappy Arena League Football team, the Kansas City Brigade (which I believe went 2-6 this season, but no one ever talks about them, so I'm not entirely sure they even exist).

Vagrants and police officers were once about the only movement on the streets at night in downtown KC ten years ago. With the rejuvenation project now mostly complete, people live downtown again in "lofts" and there are trendy restaurants and second floor bowling alley/martini bars and open air concert venues. That's right, the homeless people have all been replaced by yuppies and douchebags. Improvement? I'm not necessarily sure. Instead of having to defend yourself from beggars, you just want to beat the morons wearing their polo shirts with the "popped" collars and sideways visors. In effect it's just replacing a defensively violent mindset... with offensively violent thoughts.

Anyway... My old route into work would take me right by the construction site for the arena, so I got to watch the progress. Two years later (a year after opening) my first opportunity to see The Sprint Center from the inside presented itself. The event was my Valentine's Day gift to Megan - tickets to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (review of the concert is on the way). From outside, the arena is quite striking. The 360 degree glass-covered structure looks as though a UFO landed smack dab in the middle of downtown. We arrived at 730, the time the concert was supposed to have started... but thousands of people were lined up outside. When they finally started letting people in, the lines barely moved. Twenty minutes later, as we approached the doors, we realize that it is because they have metal detectors installed at each door, so everyone has to empty their pockets and pass through one at a time. I guess it makes things safer (theoretically), but what the hell? I just want to get in the place quickly, get something to drink and find my seat before the event is supposed to start.

The concourses are nice and wide, and there are plenty of concession stands. The appearance is quite pleasant, falling somewhere between an indoor mall and say the airport. Not that either of those choices are considered to be "pleasant", or "comfortable". You're not really going to be living here, it's not supposed to be that inviting. It is somewhat difficult to figure out how to get up to the upper tier, so Megan and I end up walking half way around the arena before we come across the 50 story high (only a slight embellishment), open air escalator into oblivion. Have I mentioned that I don't like heights? The 62-minute slow assent into the clouds was particularly unpleasant for me, as my knuckles were turning white after we approached the altitude of the moon, but most people didn't seem to mind (we took the stairs down, thankfully). The balcony level, is extremely steep and made me feel a little unstable when descending the stairs to our row, but the seats were quite comfortable even being somewhat narrow.

We were seated about as far away from the stage as possible, but the acoustics were quite great. The crowd noise was impressively loud and should create a real home-team advantage for whomever chooses to claim the center. The biggest drawback I noticed was the lack of preparedness of the concession stands. By the mid-point of the concert, the stand nearest my location was out of just about everything. The concert was sold out, they should anticipate that those people are going to want to eat and drink while they are there. Hopefully, they are still working out the kinks as to how simple things like that will function more efficiently.

All in all, The Sprint Center looks and feels like it would be a fantastic venue for sporting events, but smaller arenas or outdoor locales seem to be more enjoyable settings for concerts, in my opinion. They have already announced a pre-season NHL game between St. Louis and LA to be hosted by KC (probably an audition for the NHL management in choosing potential expansion cities) for this September. I have purchased tickets to show my support. Thankfully, I managed to acquire seats in the lower deck... no escalator!


kilax said...

I was always surprised by how dead downtown KC felt. Even during the work day (when we would visit your dad for lunch or whatever), I was surprised to see no one.

I think it is interesting that they are trying to pump people back in to the city, and clean up the area. It is unfortunate that it is a bunch of a$$holes, but you'll find them wherever you go. Even in the suburbs (they live next door).

The whole effort seems a bit contrived, or desperate, you know what I mean? But hopefully in the future, the effort will have paid off.

I didn't know you were afraid of heights. So, no skydiving for you?

Andrew Skaff said...

Everything is changing in downtown KC. The effort is contrived and desperate because all of the businesses were given tax abatements, so the city isn't making any money off of all of the new revenue. Now they're strapped with budgeting problems and are making cuts in projects and city departments that are necessary.

I do not particularly like heights, but skydiving might (stressing might) be a little different. There it's only going to last a few minutes and the user is in some manner of control over the situation. Flying doesn't bother me at all. I don't really like roller coasters, but that's just related to the slow, jerky ascent. I may try skydiving, but I might chicken out... we'll have to see.