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North Kansas City Makes Case for New Royals Ballpark Site Seen as Most Likely Alternative to Downtown

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Above image credit: A view of the downtown skyline from the property assembled by interests of the Merriman family in North Kansas City. (Kevin Collison | CityScene)
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4 minute read

North Kansas City has emerged as the most likely backup for a proposed Royals ballpark should a deal strike out at the East Village downtown site, according to sources familiar with both locations.

While North Kansas City was considered an outlier when it was listed among 14 potential ballpark locations in and around downtown by the Royals last December, its stock has risen considerably because of a major land deal.

One of Kansas City’s most powerful business families, the Merrimans of Financial Holding Corp., has assembled almost 100 acres in the heart of North Kansas City, according to news first reported by the Kansas City Business Journal

Although the Royals still are believed to be considering the East Village as their top choice, should its developer, VanTrust Real Estate, stumble in assembling the 15-acre site, the Merriman interests would be ready to step in quickly with a far larger location.

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

What’s more, Michael Merriman, chairman of Financial Holding, is a friend of Royals’ owner John Sherman.

“We believe the North Kansas City site is well worth considering because you do have all that property under one management,” said Scott Wagner, a Clay County commissioner and former Kansas City City Council member.

“The site is right across the the river and you can see downtown right across the river.”

The Royals acknowledged North Kansas City business interests are making a pitch to bring the ballpark across the river into Clay County.

“As we have stated previously, the Royals were contacted by a respected real estate investor/developer about the possibility of building a new Royals stadium and associated mixed-used development district in North Kansas City,” a spokesperson said in an email.

“We continue to be intrigued by the possibilities this location may present, and continue to evaluate it and other potential stadium sites in and around downtown.

“Neither the Royals nor John Sherman, however, have any ownership interest in the North Kansas City site or any other possible location at this time.”

Officials at Financial Holding could not be reached for comment.

The North Kansas City site has ample room for both the $1 billion ballpark being contemplated by the Royals and the estimated $1 billion in ancillary development including hotels, restaurants, apartments and offices.

The Royals listed two North Kansas City sites among the 14 it was reviewing last winter, the Merriman-controlled site is the upper location.
The Royals listed two North Kansas City sites among the 14 it was reviewing last winter, the Merriman-controlled site is the upper location. (Courtesy | Kansas City Royals)

Even so, it remains a problematic location.

First, it would not help the continued revitalization of downtown Kansas City, a spinoff benefit cited by almost all new downtown ballparks built in recent decades. The North Kansas City site is more than three miles from downtown.

It also would have its own accessibility issues with fewer transit options.

While North Kansas City would like to extend the streetcar line to its downtown, the estimated $220 million-plus price tag is steep. It likely could not be financed using the same transportation development district mechanism that has built the Main Street line in Kansas City.

And a North Kansas City ballpark would not yield direct social benefits to nearby poor neighborhoods, a goal embraced by Sherman.

Still, backers say a North Kansas City ballpark could help Jackson County address the unknown financial ask by the Chiefs. While team officials have said they would like to remain at Arrowhead, sources say their upgrade requests could hit $800 million.

A rendering of a potential downtown Royals ballpark.
A rendering of a potential downtown Royals ballpark. (Courtesy | Kansas City Royals)

Extending the current Jackson County three-eighths-cent sales tax in place for building and maintaining Kauffman and Arrowhead stadiums at Truman Sports Complex would yield $300- to $400 million for each team.

While the Royals have said that’s enough direct public money for their ballpark plan, the Chiefs remain a big question mark.

Wagner said getting Clay County involved could relieve part of the sports facility burden from Jackson County.

“If you have one stadium in one county versus two stadiums, that might work as part of a regional solution,” Wagner said.

Whether Clay County and its population of 255,000 people, far fewer than the 720,000 in Jackson County, could financially support a potential Royals stadium through a sales tax bump is another unknown.

Royals owner John Sherman has been a big supporter of The Rabbit hOle children's literature center being built at 919 E. 14th Ave. in North Kansas City.
Royals owner John Sherman has been a big supporter of The Rabbit hOle children’s literature center being built at 919 E. 14th Ave. in North Kansas City. (Kevin Collison | CityScene)

“With the growth of Clay County, we have an opportunity to meet their number, although nobody from the team and the Merrimans has told us what it is,” Wagner said.

Wagner also said a ballpark would benefit the redevelopment boom that’s already underway in North Kansas City.

The Iron District and other venues have become entertainment destinations and developers recently completed the 208-unit Oxbow apartment project at 18th and Swift. Sherman also is a backer of the yet-to-open Rabbit hOle children’s literature center at 919 E. 14th Ave.

“North Kansas City would like to see this as a catalyst,” Wagner said. “If we can be part of a regional solution to keep the Royals and Chiefs, why not?”

Flatland contributor Kevin Collison is the founder of CityScene KC, an online source for downtown news and issues.

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3 thoughts on “North Kansas City Makes Case for New Royals Ballpark

  1. Are there any historical sites within the areas being proposed for the new Royals Stadium. I am particularly concerned about the site that would include the original home of the Star at 18th and Grand. Wasn’t this the site for the first location of WDAF Radio which was owned at that time by the Star? I believe this location is on the National Historical Registry.

    • Earl,

      Thanks for your feedback. It’s appreciated. At this point, the original historic Kansas City Star property at 18th and Grand has not been identified as a potential ballpark site. However, the Star’s more recently built press pavilion facility southeast of Truman Road and McGee Street has been proposed as part of a potential site. When the Royals announce a formal proposal, we’ll be sure to check to see if any historic sites are affected. Thanks for reading.

  2. Baseball has always belong in downtown(s). Every other city has done especially well with a downtown stadium. It would be very difficult for me to go to a game if the stadium was built somewhere else. This would not be fare for me and my family as long time fans. We live six minutes from downtown verses a half hour at the proposed potential site.

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