(Oct. 7, 12:10 p.m.) Only 15 of the more than 65 tenants expected to inhabit the Power & Light District had opened when the Big 12 Conference basketball tournaments returned to Kansas City, Mo., in March, after a two-year absence.

Still, thousands of fans from the league’s seven states poured into the new Sprint Center to watch their teams and stuck around long enough to spend an estimated $15 million in the city — much of it in the eight-block, $850 million entertainment district adjacent to the new arena.

“We’ve shown we can put on a big event like the Big 12 tournament and have a big success, and the Power & Light District wasn’t even what it is today,” said Scott Danner, chief operating officer of Kansas City, Kan.-based Liberty Fruit Co. “Next time it will be even better.”

After rotating back to Oklahoma City in 2009, the tournaments return to Kansas City in 2010 and 2011. The Sprint Center also has brought in big names and big crowds for concerts, ranging from Miley Cyrus to Tina Turner.

But Danner and others would like to see Kansas City, which has major league baseball and NFL teams, use its new arena to lure an NBA or NHL franchise.

“The Sprint Center needs a tenant,” Danner said.

That would mean even more business for the numerous restaurants and hotels that have opened in the city’s rejuvenated downtown.

Gene Loffredo, president and chief executive officer of Loffredo Fresh Produce, Des Moines, Iowa, said sales at his company’s Kansas City division are up 8%, compared to 6% companywide.

“Casinos and the Sprint Center have definitely brought us new business,” he said. “There have been more openings of national business. We’re happy down there.”

Kansas City was an NBA city from 1972-85 before the Kings moved on to Sacramento, Calif. The city also had an NHL expansion team from 1974-76, but the Scouts skated to Colorado and later New Jersey.

The city will have a chance to showcase its new arena and entertainment district for both leagues this fall. Los Angeles and St. Louis will play an NHL exhibition game Sept. 22 at Sprint Center, and Portland and Atlanta will meet in an NBA exhibition game Oct. 10.

“There’s a lot of eyes on these types of games,” Danner said. “They want to see what’s going to happen in Kansas City.”

While downtown is booming, Danner said the growth has come at the expense of some other parts of the metro.

“You’re trading dollars,” he said. “They’re stealing money from Westport and the Plaza. Is there new money? Maybe some, but I don’t know if there’s a lot of new money.”

Nick Conforti, vice president of C&C Produce Inc., said the new hot spot also has taken business away from The Legends, the Kansas City, Kan., entertainment complex that includes Kansas Speedway.

“We’ve picked up some really good customers,” he said. “Unfortunately, in Kansas City, there’s only so much disposable income. Everyone is doing well on the weekend, but during the week, there’s more pressure.”

Meanwhile, Loffredo said his company’s overall foodservice sales are up about 10%, overcoming a national trend of slumping same-store sales.

“Grocery stores aren’t cheap by any means,” he said. “Sometimes, it’s just as cheap to eat a meal out. It didn’t used to be.”

Brendan Comito, chief operating officer of Capital City Fruit, Des Moines, said that while white tablecloth sales are down slightly, his quick-service customers are doing fine.

“In this part of the country, I don’t think we’ve been hit as hard as the coasts,” Comito said. “Business is down, but it hasn’t been devastating. There aren’t a lot of restaurants closing. Our foodservice business is actually pretty strong.”

Chief operating officer Brent Bielski said Greenberg Fruit Co. Inc., Omaha, Neb., hasn’t seen a drop in any of the foodservice categories.

“We haven’t seen much of a change at all, surprisingly so,” he said. “You have seen a little dip on Mondays and Tuesdays, but it’s slight. Weekends have stayed surprisingly strong.”