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East Village Developer Ready to Play Ball on Potential Downtown Stadium

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4 minute read

(Updated Nov. 26 with new Royals owner John Sherman’s first comments during a press conference at Kauffman Stadium about the potential for a downtown ballpark:

“There is a lot left on the lease. When you look out the window there’s a beautiful place to play baseball….

“That said, there’s a lot of interest in, in fact, while we were in Arlington we toured the new stadium the Rangers are constructing right now. There’s a lot of real estate development around it.

“I think there’s a lot of thought that baseball, there’s just more economic development opportunity if it’s in denser areas where you can have ancillary real estate.

“We’ll evaluate that decision, those thoughts or those strategies over the next few years and it will be driven by what’s best for the club, what’s best for our fans and what’s best for the community.”

By Kevin Collison

The developer controlling what some insiders view as the leading choice for a potential downtown ballpark, the East Village, is “100 percent supportive” should the pending new ownership of the Royals decide to pursue that option.

“Emotionally, we’re in love with the idea of a downtown ballpark wherever it lands,” said Rich Muller, executive vice president of VanTrust Real Estate.

“We have not been a participant in discussions related to that, but we’d love to be if it turns out the folks who are spearheading the charge want to.”

The Royals confirmed last week that an ownership group led by Kansas City businessman John Sherman has agreed to purchase the team for $1 billion, and the deal could be finalized when major league baseball owners meet late next month.

Except for his statement in the Royals release, Sherman has remained silent on his future plans.

However, his significant ownership stake in the Cleveland Guardians–the ball club plays at Progressive Field in the heart of downtown–makes a downtown ballpark a known quantity to him.

In 2005, Kansas City downtown business leaders tried hard to persuade Royals’ owner David Glass to come downtown when the team’s lease renewal came up at Kauffman Field. The estimated cost of a downtown ballpark then was $357 million.

The Downtown Council commissioned a study at the time that concluded downtown baseball would benefit the club’s revenue stream by boosting weekday attendance an estimated 20 percent.

The report by Barrett Sports Group also suggested a downtown ballpark likely would prompt stronger corporate support for the team, leading to additional suites and club seats in a new ballpark.

As for helping downtown revitalization, the Barrett report looked at cities that had built  downtown ballparks and observed the economic spinoff included more residences, entertainment venues and hotels being built as a result.

“When you consider what the downtown ballpark has done to Denver, San Diego, Cleveland, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, etc. to name a few–in terms of team revenues, external economic development and civic pride–it is a formula for success that cannot be denied,” the report stated.

The KC East Village redevelopment area occupies eight blocks near City Hall.

In the end, the Royals and Glass dismissed the downtown ballpark idea and instead decided to stay put after Jackson County voters approved a $250 million renovation of the ballpark that opened in 1973.

That hasn’t stopped downtown advocates from hoping the team might reconsider the idea the next time around. The current lease at Kauffman runs through 2030.

While that seems like a long ways off, sports architects estimate it would take about four years to design and build a new ballpark. That timeline doesn’t include how long it would require to assemble the land, a complicated task given its urban location.

The Downtown Council and City of Kansas City commissioned a study released two years ago that identified four potential locations for a downtown ballpark including the East Village.

The others were in the North Loop area bordering the central business district and the River Market; a site at 13th and Grand, and the Jackson County Jail at 13th and Locust and adjoining county-owned property east of the Sprint Center.

Continued development however, has made the 13th and Grand site, and the North Loop area, where a major renovation of the former Flashcube building is occurring, less likely, according to sources familiar with current downtown ballpark thinking.

While the Jackson County Jail location remains a possibility, it would require the county to not only decide to build a new facility, something which so far it’s made no commitment to do, but also be willing to work with downtown ballpark advocates.

Another potential ballpark site that recently surfaced in a news report, land controlled by the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority around 18th and Troost, was not viewed as a serious option by downtown ballpark sources.

The redevelopment of the Flashcube building at 720 Main is believed to have made a proposed North Loop ballpark site less likely.

That leaves the East Village redevelopment area, an eight-block stretch northeast of City Hall between Cherry and Charlotte, from Eighth to Ninth streets as relatively primed and ready. It’s been designated by the city as a redevelopment zone since 2005.

Except for the opening of the J.E. Dunn Construction headquarters in 2009, little has construction has occurred. The original developer, Swope Community Builders, completed a 50-unit apartment project in 2011.

In 2017, VanTrust Real Estate was granted the development rights. Since then, the firm founded by the late wealthy businessman Cecil VanTuyl has been acquiring the remaining properties in the East Village area and now controls about 85 percent of the land.

The original concept called for the East Village to be developed as a mixed-use project with housing, office space and some retail.

But Muller said VanTrust is excited about a potential downtown ballpark and observed the approximately 15-acre site would have ample room for a stadium.

“I’d like to believe it would be more than enough to accommodate a ballpark and have room for more development,” he said.

Muller also said the East Village site has good access to 71 Highway, which is part of the downtown freeway Loop. It also would steer traffic away from the downtown core.

“One advantage, being somewhat on the periphery, you don’t need to get people on city streets in the middle of downtown,” he said. “At that location, if placed correctly, ingress and egress is as workable as any.”

One drawback to the East Village site is it’s six blocks from the nearest streetcar stop, although still within the zone that transportation planners consider the “walkshed” for streetcar riders.

The potential Jackson County Jail site is four blocks from the nearest stop. The KCATA site would be about three-quarters of a mile, 14 blocks, from the nearest streetcar stop.

One other big factor weighing in support of an East Village site, it’s located in a designated federal opportunity zone, a program established by the Trump Administration to encourage development in depressed areas.

Developers and businesses that invest in opportunity zones are eligible for substantial federal tax breaks, an incentive that could encourage more private money going into what’s now estimated to be an $800 million ballpark project.

“For a new group to come in, that would definitely be an advantage,” Muller said.

(Editor’s note: Beginning Dec. 2, CityScene KC will become a paid subscription publication)

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