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Royals Declare ‘Our Conclusion is Clear’ on Downtown Ballpark

Private Funding for Bulk of $2 Billion Ballpark Village

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Above image credit: Royals owner John Sherman answers a question during the Royals first hearing at a downtown ballpark at the Westport Plexpod. (Kevin Collison| CityScene)

The Royals believe a new downtown ballpark is best move for the future of the team, telling 350 people at a public event Tuesday that it would cost less than rebuilding Kauffman Stadium and bring much more economic benefit to the community.

“For the Royals, our conclusion is clear,” said team owner John Sherman.

“It will be a far better investment to build new and move into or near the urban core of our community and create an energized district around our ballpark.”

Royals executives along with a team from Populous architecture laid out their case for what they estimated would be a $2 billion development, roughly half for the ballpark and the remainder for spinoff projects, in the meeting at Westport Plexpod in Midtown.

It was the first stop on a listening tour the Royals are undertaking. A website on the ballpark district proposal can be found here.

Sherman said the bulk of the funding would come from private sources. Jackson County taxpayers would be asked to extend the current 3/8th cents sales tax used for the Truman Sports Complex.

The earliest an election to extend the sales tax could occur would be next August, team officials said.

“We’re still early in this process to put together the financing and all that will be shared in great detail,” Sherman said.

“We’d expect private capital would take care of a major part of the ballpark and that private capital will develop all the district around it.”

Aerial view of East Village site.
The East Village area covers about eight blocks east of City Hall and has been designated for redevelopment since 2005. (Photo from ULI)

Earl Santee, global chair and founder of Populous, said 14 sites have been examined in and around downtown. According to sources, the Royals’ are most focused on the East Village site, an eight-block redevelopment zone northeast of City Hall.

As for staying at Kauffman, Populous examined The K and determined the concrete in the 50-year-old facility was deteriorating, the pump room for the fountains leaking, and its electrical, cooling and heating systems were in need of replacement.

Santee estimated 70% of The K would have to be replaced to meet the goals of the team. The estimated cost of rebuilding Kauffman was $1.072 billion vs. $1.005 billion to build a new ballpark.

Sarah Tourville, Royals vice president for business operations, said staying put was not an option for the team.

“The K will have outgrown its fullest functionalities by the time our lease expires at the end of the decade,” she said. “We are clear-eyed the Truman Sports Complex is not a viable option for us long term.”

As for relocating the ballclub downtown, team leaders said it opened a wide range of opportunities and would tap into what they said was the fastest growing market in the metropolitan area.

Overhead view of potential Royals ballpark.
An overhead view of a potential Royals ballpark that would include other development as well such as offices, hotel, residential and retail. (Courtesy | Kansas City Royals)

“Our exploration has shown us that downtown Kansas City is younger, more diverse and growing at a faster clip than anywhere else in the greater metropolitan area,” Tourville said.

“A stadium project in or around downtown could become a catalyst for future retail and commercial growth, building on the momentum that continues to occur in Kansas City.”

A new ballpark would retain some of the tradition of the old, including fountains and the crown, and also be flexible for the fan experience officials see being demanded in the future.

It would have seating for 34,000- to 35,000 people, Santee said. An additional 3,000 fans could buy tickets to mingle and watch the game standing, a growing trend at major league parks.

As for parking, which has been a big concern of fans about relocating downtown, Santee said two independent studies were conducted about parking availability and determined it should not be an issue.

About 350 people attended the first ballpark meeting at the Westport Plexpod in Midtown.
About 350 people attended the first ballpark meeting at the Westport Plexpod in Midtown. (Kevin Collison | CityScene)

He estimated fans attending a ballgame need from 9,700 to 11,400 spaces, and the consultants estimated there were 55,000 spaces available in downtown.

“We could park not just one ballpark, but two ballparks downtown with the parking that’s available,” Santee said.

The Populous official also said downtown could provide ample parking for a game even if there’s an event occurring at the T-Mobile Center.

“We believe you could have concurrent events, a concert at T-Mobile and a ballgame,” Santee said. “Instead of a half hour walk like Truman (Sports Complex), here the most you’d have with both venues is a 20 minute walk.”

In answer to a question about why the existing Truman Sports Complex has failed to attract significant development, the response was location.

“There’s never been a lot of traction for development, part of it is finding the right kind of development, but it has been 52 years,” Santee said.

“There has been every opportunity for someone to come in and do something with the property. That’s not to say someone won’t.”

He was referring to plans by the Chiefs to redevelop the Kauffman site as an entertainment district after the Royals leave. While the Chiefs have been relatively quiet about their plan, the owners have said they’d prefer to remain at the Arrowhead Stadium location.

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

“Our move closer to downtown would allow for the Chiefs to more fully maximize the facility in a manner they see fit,” Tourville said.

Sherman also was asked why only Jackson County taxpayers were being asked to help subsidize the billion dollar stadium. If that county sales tax was continued, it would generate an estimated $300- to $400 million dollars for each team over 30 years.

“I think Jackson County wants to keep both these teams in Jackson County,” Sherman replied.

“We talk about a bistate. Fundamentally, this is a regional team. But from a political perspective … it’s just too complicated because of all the multiple jurisdictions.”

While pledging to the audience the Royals will remain in Kansas City, Sherman said the future prosperity of the franchise as at an important juncture. That’s the reasoning behind a downtown ballpark.

“Today, we sit at a critical juncture for this team, also for the community and our partners across the parking lot at Truman Sports Complex, the Kansas City Chiefs,” Sherman said.

“We’re working closely together with them to take our teams forward to the next generation of major league sports in Kansas City.

“We may be on different time lines, but one thing is clear. We both intend for it to be something very special for our fans and the community we love.”

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

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