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Jackson County Balks at Starting Royals Downtown Ballpark Talks

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3 minute read

By Kevin Collison

Last month, Royals owner John Sherman expressed frustration about “waiting on a few people” who didn’t share the team’s urgency about negotiating a downtown ballpark deal.

Turns out, that negotiating ball has literally been in Jackson County’s court since at least mid-June, according to senior-level sources close to the concept with the Royals and County Hall.

That’s when the Royals sent Jackson County what’s called a term sheet outlining what the club wants in a long-term lease for a proposed ballpark at the East Village and extending the existing 3/8th cent county sales tax to help pay for it

They’ve been waiting for a response ever since and sources say part of the hold-up has been with Jackson County Executive Frank White Jr.

John Sherman at a press conference last month where he expressed frustration about the pace of negotiations for a proposed new downtown ballpark.

Why?

The former Royals Hall of Fame second baseman is said to believe the county should retain outside legal help to negotiate with the Royals, and personally, still may be annoyed over being fired by the club’s previous management as a television game analyst in 2011.

Jackson County also had favored a potential ballpark site near 18th and Vine, a location the Royals have ruled out.

In a written response, Marshanna Smith, White’s press aide, said:

“For five decades, the County has fostered a relationship of respect and positivity with the Kansas City Royals.

“We hold unwavering confidence that this fruitful partnership will continue throughout the current contract and even beyond, as we diligently strive to ensure the team remains rooted in Jackson County for countless years ahead.

“Additionally, I’d refer you to the County Executive’s previous statement regarding downtown baseball, specifically that he will ‘endorse a new downtown stadium only when I am convinced it serves the best interests of Jackson County residents.'”

In the meantime, North Kansas City has offered an alternative site to downtown Kansas City the Royals are seriously considering.

A bronze sculpture of Frank White, Jr. is located outside Kauffman Field. (Photo from Jackson County website)

The Merriman family of Financial Holding Corp., a major developer in the area, acquired an 85-acre site just south of North Kansas City’s downtown district and has made a strong play for the Royals ballpark along with Clay County officials.

“Who can blame the Royals if they have a dance partner ready to dance vs a party who doesn’t,” said a Jackson County source. “We’ve been sitting on our hands.”

While Sherman didn’t name names at his June 29 press conference, he did emphasize the team had been straightforward with Jackson County about what it needs to pursue building the estimated $1 billion ballpark.

“Our ask from them (Jackson County) is clear, to extend the existing 3/8 cent sale tax thats being used today to maintain two aging buildings and to redeploy that capital to do something that’s very special,” the club owner said at the time.

In a letter released this week, Sherman reaffirmed the team plans to make a decision on where to build the ballpark by late summer.

He also promised more details about what the club envisions in what’s called a ballpark district redevelopment that would accompany the stadium either in the East Village or North Kansas City would be released in the next 30 days.

The team has said previously it could include hotels, restaurants and bars, shops, apartments and offices.

An overhead view of a potential Royals ballpark that would include other development as well such as offices, hotel, residential and retail. (Rendering from Royals)

“We will create a world-class ballpark that keeps pace with out peers nationwide, brings to Kansas Citians a dynamic and energized ballpark experience and is woven into the fabric of our region,” Sherman wrote.

“We anticipate that the inaugural year of the new ballpark is expected to generate some $185 million more in regional economic output than The K does today.”

The entire development would cost an estimated $2 billion, with the Royals ownership group committing more than $1 billion. The county sales tax extension would yield $300- to $350 million for the ballpark project.

The Chiefs, who would like to renovate Arrowhead and demolish Kauffman to make way for an entertainment district, would receive the same amount from a county sales tax extension.

A vote on the county sales tax extension won’t occur until next April at the earliest.

Among the issues Jackson County would like resolved when it responds to the Royals lease proposal include the ballpark ownership, who will pay for demolishing Kauffman and what perks might be available for Jackson County residents wanting to attend Royals games.

“We haven’t even started those conversations,” a county source said. “We haven’t even engaged with them.”

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