Published April 26th, 2023 at 11:30 AM3 minute read
By Kevin Collison
North Kansas City has emerged as the 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 ranking 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.
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 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 KC site has ample room for both the $1 billion ballpark being contemplated by the Royals and the estimated $1 billion worth of ancillary development including hotels, restaurants, apartments and offices.
But 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 KC site is more than three miles from downtown.
It also would have its own accessibility issues with fewer transit options.
While North KC 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 KC ballpark would not yield direct social benefits to nearby poor neighborhoods, a goal embraced by Sherman.
Still, backers say a North KC 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.
Extending the current Jackson County three-eighths cent sales tax in place for building and maintaining Kauffman Field and Arrowhead 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 his county could relieve part of the sports facility burden from Jackson County.
“If you have one stadium in one county vs 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 potential sales tax bump is another unknown.
“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 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?”