How justified is Royals’ new ballpark plans?



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Kansas City Royals stadium update February 2023 Image: Kansas City Royals and MLB

The Major League Baseball (MLB) team Kansas City Royals (US) continues community meetings to explain their plans for a new downtown ballpark.

‘KCUR 89.3’ stated that the team’s third and final community listening session focused on what the Eastern Jackson County communities stand to lose if the Kauffman Stadium residents in Kansas City (US) move West.

‘Ballpark Digest’ stated that the Royals are promoting a new downtown Kansas City development featuring a billion-dollar new ballpark and another billion spent on a multiuse development featuring housing (including affordable housing), retail and Class A office space.

The Royals would pay for the development and split the cost of the new ballpark with the local and State Governmental bodies, including the proceeds of a Jackson County 3/8 of a cent sales tax.

‘Ballpark Digest’ further stated that the team has already had two listening session with the public, with residents raising concerns about gentrification and wondering why Kauffman Stadium isn’t good enough any longer. (The reason given by the team: Up to 70 percent of the ballpark would have to be rebuilt because of wear and tear on the ballpark concrete, identified as alkali silica reaction. Basically, age and the elements have caused deterioration of the structural concrete, and the Royals have chosen to pursue a new ballpark and its potential revenue boost rather than pay for repairs).

The Kansas City Royals are an American professional baseball team based in Kansas City, Missouri (US). The Royals compete in Major League Baseball (MLB) as a member club of the American League Central division.

The 37,903-capacity Kauffman Stadium, often called ‘The K’, is a baseball stadium located in Kansas City, Missouri (US). It is home to the Kansas City Royals of Major League Baseball (MLB). It is part of the Truman Sports Complex together with the adjacent 76,416-capacity Arrowhead Stadium, home of the Kansas City Chiefs of the National Football League (NFL).

‘KCUR 89.3’ further stated that the Kansas City Royals hosted on February 1st the final stop in their community listening tour over their proposal to leave Kauffman Stadium and build a downtown ballpark and the surrounding entertainment district.

Royals majority owner John Sherman, team executives and an architectural consultant told an audience at the Midwest Genealogy Center in Independence, Missouri, how the benefits of a downtown stadium would economically affect the entire metropolitan area.

The February 1st session, the last of the three community listening opportunities, was the only stop outside of Kansas City, Missouri, where concerns centered largely on the proposed stadium’s possible impact on housing affordability.

The Eastern Jackson County audience took the chance to ask instead about what will be lost if the team vacates the Truman Sports Complex.

Put in Brooks Sherman, Royals Chief Operating Officer (COO), “We recognize where ‘The K’ is today, and its proximity.”

But the team’s delegates focused their answers more on the positive impact of a new, downtown presence.

Sherman said the new stadium and the surrounding district could draw more than 2,000,000 fans a year.

He added, “To give those fans – whether they’re in Kansas City, or they’re coming from the opposing team – an area with a stadium and a development around it that really shines a bright light in a very positive way on the entire region.”
 

Local Businesses Affected

Former Independence (City in Missouri) Mayor Eileen Weir said the majority of the City’s hotel tax revenue is a direct result of Royals home games.

Though she doesn’t expect that to change if the Royals relocate downtown, Weir said the real impact of a move would be on small, local businesses.

Pointed out Weir, “Dixon’s Chili, Hi-Boy, V’s restaurant – those places, and even the QuikTrip, the gas stations and supermarkets. You see people go there before and after a Royals game.”

Other audience members voiced concerns over basic questions such as: How much are Jackson County taxpayers expected to pay for the new facility?

Sherman wasn’t able to provide a clear answer. The team’s current development proposal depends on Jackson County voters extending a ⅜-cent sales tax to pay for renovations at the Truman Sports Complex.

He pointed out, “You can’t put an exact number on that today. That changes with interest rates. That changes with: What is the period of time the tax is extended?”

Majority owner John Sherman, no relation to Brooks Sherman, said the Royals are going to be the biggest investor in this project – “We feel like, in order to make sure that this team thrives in this community for the next 30, 40, or 50 years, we have a world-class ballpark. It creates economic activity for 365 days a year and that’s why we’re asking that this is a public partnership.”

As he did at previous community meetings, John Sherman said the bulk of the financing would come from private sources.

The Royals’ ownership team has said that upkeep costs at the Kauffman Stadium through 2031, when the current lease is up, will be as much or more than the cost to build a new ballpark.
 

The Losing Trends

The team didn’t give Kansas City fans much to cheer about in the 2022 season. They finished last in the American League Central, with 65 wins and 97 losses.

Stated John Sherman, “We were not happy with the results of 2022. In fact, the most disappointing part of that is that we expected to be better.”

The Royals also ranked 26th out of 30 teams in overall stadium attendance. Only Pittsburgh Pirates, Tampa Bay Rays, Miami Marlins, and Oakland Athletics were worse.

Many at the meeting noted that businesses surrounding the stadium thrive even more when the team is winning and more fans attend games.

The losing trends on the field may not help when the Jackson County taxpayers are asked to extend the ⅜ cents sales tax, a move that could come as early as August.

Observed Weir, who has lived in Independence for more than 30 years, “If it were today, I think it would be very challenging.”

The former Mayor said she doesn’t believe enough information is being provided by the Royals – specifically about the site the Royals eventually select – for that extension to be granted.

If a tax extension is granted by the voters this Summer, Sherman anticipates a three-year construction period, making 2027 the earliest the Royals could move into a new stadium. The current lease with the Jackson County runs through 2031.

The team’s representatives did not provide a timetable on when a site will be selected. They have narrowed the possibilities down to four or five locations, all in the downtown area.

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