Published September 27th, 2023 at 11:30 AM3 minute read
By Kevin Collison
While Jackson County may not welcome their help, backers of a ballpark in North Kansas City say that option would allow the counties to share the public burden of financing new facilities for the Royals and Chiefs.
“It seems we need a strategy to not only help the Royals, but handle what the Chiefs will undoubtably ask to keep up with what other NFL stadiums have been doing,” said Scott Wagner, a Clay County commissioner.
“It makes total sense for a Missouri solution for both teams, the Royals in Clay County and the Chiefs in Jackson County.”
The Chiefs have been conspicuously silent while the Royals, as some observers privately say, have been “taking the arrows” since last winter in their public quest for a new ballpark.
Despite their low-profile stance however, it’s widely anticipated the Chiefs will be seeking hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars–one estimate put it at $800 million–to achieve their goals at Arrowhead.
Under the terms of their leases at the Truman Sports Complex, the Royals and Chiefs receive equal treatment by Jackson County. Extending the 3/8th cent county sales tax would yield an estimated $300-$400 million for each team.
The Royals say that amount is all the direct taxpayer cash assistance they’re requesting to build an estimated $1 billion ballpark, either in the East Village location in downtown or the North Kansas City site.
Another $1 billion in private investment is forecast in a ballpark district that would include restaurants, bars, hotels and apartments.
The cost of infrastructure work–utilities, highway ramps, street improvements–has been estimated at $250 million for the East Village site and would likely be financed all or in part through indirect, city tax-increment financing incentives.
Infrastructure costs are estimated to be even more for a potential North Kansas City location.
Wagner said the huge costs of new NFL stadiums make it likely that whatever the Chiefs ask for public subsidies will be far beyond what Jackson County could provide splitting the 3/8th cent sales tax.
The new Buffalo Bills stadium is costing $1.65 billion and the planned Tennessee Titans stadium is $2.1 billion.
“With the current lease agreement with Jackson County, that would ge a very big ask of Jackson County voters,” Wagner said.
“By virtue of what we offer in North Kansas City for the Royals, we could have good solutions for both teams.”
Missouri officials, while being lobbied by the teams, have been mum about how much the state would contribute to keeping the Chiefs and Royals in Kansas City.
About 90 acres has been acquired in North Kansas City by the Merriman family, the deep-pocketed but low-profile owners of Financial Holding Corp. The site is next to The Oxbow apartment complex the Merrimans recently developed there.
The potential ballpark redevelopment site extends from the south side of Armour Road, the main commercial strip of the town of 5,000, to 18th Avenue. It’s near such well-known businesses as Chappell’s Restaurant and Sports Museum and the Screenland Theatre.
Their development plan calls for restaurants and bars to be built along Armour. Other aspects of the plan include a 4,000-seat performance venue, hotels, apartments and offices. There would be 4,750 parking garage spaces and 4,000 surface spaces.
The ballpark would be located about a half-block south of Armour with the seating open to views of downtown Kansas City about two miles away. Motorists on Interstate 29, which is on the east side of the development site, would be able to view inside.
While backers say security for such a major development would not be a burden for the small community and its police department, former Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith has been hired as a consultant.
Should the Royals decide on the North Kansas City option, backers say it also would be a boost to a plan to extend the streetcar from the River Market to Armour Road, using the Heart of America Bridge and Swift Avenue.
An estimate last year put the cost of just building the streetcar extension at $222 million with additional funding needed for operations.
It far exceeded the amount North Kansas City could raise for its local share if it used the transportation development district (TDD) method now being employed to build the streetcar in Kansas City.
Wagner said the increased property values and sales tax revenues a new Royals ballpark and surrounding development would bring could help a TDD generate the local money required to match federal funding.
“The idea is that a development of this size might finally create an opportunity to go after federal funds to finish that streetcar route,” he said.
“It presents the clearest pathway to bring that transit across the river.”
The critical question concerning any potential North Kansas City ballpark is whether Clay County voters would approve what’s anticipated to be a new one-cent sales tax to pay for the public share.
While supporters say polling makes them optimistic, none were willing to share the numbers.
“I think the people of Clay County are very much open to it,” Wagner said.