Published July 27th, 2023 at 6:30 AM3 minute read
Last month, Kansas City 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 proposal.
As it turns out, that negotiating ball literally has been in Jackson County’s court since at least mid-June, according to several senior-level sources close to the proposal with the Royals and Jackson County.
That’s when the Royals sent Jackson County 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 3/8-cent county sales tax to help pay for it
They’ve been waiting for a response ever since. And multiple sources say part of the holdup has been with Jackson County Executive Frank White Jr.
The former Royals Hall of Fame second baseman is said to believe the county should retain outside legal help to negotiate with the Royals. Some sources also noted that White may still 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 at 18th Street and Troost Avenue, a site 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 that the Royals are seriously considering.
The Merriman family of Financial Holding Corp., a major developer in the city, 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 versus 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 clear with Jackson County about what it needs to pursue building the estimated $1 billion ballpark, as part of an estimated $2 billion mixed-use development.
“Our ask from them (Jackson County) is clear, to extend the existing 3/8-cent sale tax that’s being used today to maintain two aging buildings and to redeploy that capital to do something that’s very special,” Sherman said at the time.
In a letter released this week, Sherman reaffirmed the team’s 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 development 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.
“We will create a world-class ballpark that keeps pace with our 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 million to $350 million for the ballpark project.
The Chiefs, who would like to renovate Arrowhead Stadium 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 to resolve 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.”
Flatland contributor Kevin Collison is the founder of CityScene KC, an online source for downtown news and issues.