Published August 23rd, 2023 at 3:30 AM6 minute read
When it comes to designing a new Royals ballpark district in either downtown Kansas City or North Kansas City, both options have two things in common — the ballpark would hold 38,000 fans and be oriented south-southeast.
After that, there are significant differences in how the surrounding ballpark developments would unfold, according to the Royals and their architect, Earl Santee of Populous, one of the nation’s premier sports architecture firms.
At a press conference Tuesday discussing the development concepts, Santee said the 27-acre East Village site would be a more vertical, dense project designed to be an infill to the downtown fabric.
On the other hand, with 90 acres to play with in North Kansas City, that concept would be more spread out, low-rise and have elements including a park to create a sense of place in what’s now a nondescript light industrial area.
The ballparks also would be designed differently to reflect their surroundings.
“Downtown was more of an infill project, we felt something that was transparent and was open to potential commercial and residential development,” Santee said.
“More open because we have views in the outfield from both residential towers, hotels and commercial office space with a view into the ballpark… The signature piece is an iconic sweeping canopy.”
The entrance to an East Village ballpark would be off 12th Street, and fans would walk into a concourse overlooking the outfield. People walking by also could see the field. And in a nod to Kauffman Stadium, the ballpark would include fountains.
And North Kansas City?
“A little more gritty, intended to reflect the community and integrate into overall character of North Kansas City development,” Santee said.
“Visually, they are two distinct buildings. One is intended to be more transparent, the other tends to be a little more gritty to fit the neighborhood.”
Either way, Brooks Sherman, Royals president of business operations, said the proposed ballpark development will be a great economic and recreational benefit to whichever community it lands.
“From the beginning, we’ve talked about this being more than a ballpark and it will be,” he said. “We envision a district of vibrancy and activity 365 days a year for everyone in the community.”
Financial estimates provided by Imran Aukil, a principal at HR&A, stated the construction alone would have a $2.8 billion economic impact in the metropolitan area.
He calculated that once the district was up and running, it would have a $185 million annual net new economic benefit and create 600 full- and part-time jobs, both at the ballpark and in hotels and other businesses around the area.
“We think we’ve got two great possibilities here at these locations,” Sherman said. “We think it would be a great benefit for our community no matter which location will land.”
The East Village location from Eighth to 12th streets and between Charlotte and Cherry would be more commercially focused, with offices, hotels, entertainment retail and potential residential, Santee said.
In response to concerns it would compete with the Power & Light District, which has been subsidized by the city since its opening in 2007, the architect said the entertainment venues at the ballpark would complement Power & Light.
“There’s more than one thing that they go do in a day,” he said. “We think it’s an additive process. The style of development is different. It’s a lower scale.
“Right now, we’re pushing for local companies to be involved in it versus having national franchises being involved in Power & Light.”
Santee also addressed the downtown parking concerns expressed by some people.
While the Royals still believe many fans will be able to find parking in existing downtown garages and lots, he said the East Village ballpark district would include a dedicated, 4,000-space garage.
The proposed development also may spill over to the east side of U.S. 71 into an area referred to as Paseo West. One of the renderings showed a pedestrian bridge spanning the highway.
“We do think the East Village location and the highway improvements would certainly open Paseo West for development,” Sherman said.
“It could be organic, catalytic due to the fact we’re there. We also think our location in East Village would enhance the ability to develop over there and we would participate in it and expect it to do well.”
Across the river in North Kansas City, the ballpark district concept would have a bigger emphasis on residential while also including office and entertainment retail. One of the non-commercial features would be a central park with a pond and pavilion.
“The idea is to bring people to North Kansas City that would love to work and live there,” Santee said.
“An active community park is a great way to bring people from across region together. We could surround the park with housing to make a great neighborhood.”
The North Kansas City site is bounded by Armour Boulevard on the north, 16th Street on the south, Interstate 29 to the east and Erie Street on the west.
One more common feature of both development plans is an outdoor performance venue with seating for 4,000 people.
“We look to supplement the games with concerts and other events inside the stadium as well as within the ballpark district,” Sherman said.
“We can draw 2 million fans and more to the ballpark and the ballpark district itself will attract more visitors to the area.”
While no estimates were provided for the public infrastructure costs associated with either site, Brooks did say the North Kansas City site would need more investment, noting the East Village already had the benefit of being in a formerly built-up downtown area.
“No matter where we play, we have to make sure we can get fans into the ballpark and district easily and get them out as well,” he said.
On the development side, Brooks said the Royals would likely partner with the Merriman Family, which owns the North Kansas City property where the project would be located.
“They’d be a partner of ours up there and certainly they’re a good developer,” he said. “In the East Village, VanTrust (Real Estate) has had their ownership there and we’re working with them. You could see them play a role down there.”
No tenants for the offices, hotels and retail space envisioned for the projects have been lined up, but Sherman said there have been active conversations.
“We’ve had incoming calls and we expect those to continue and be active, especially once we come to the conclusion of where we will be,” he said.
As to how negotiations with Jackson County are going on the East Village site as well as officials in Clay County regarding North Kansas City, Sherman said they’re progressing.
“We’ve had a little bit of back and forth, yes,” he said.
“We have a good relationship with (Jackson County Executive) Frank White, just as we do in Clay County with (Presiding Commissioner) Jerry Nolte.
“Those conversations are amicable and ongoing. John recently met with Frank, and we’ve seen him at the ballgame.”
Regardless of which location is chosen, the Royals would like to be playing in their new ballpark for the 2028 season. Their current lease with Jackson County at the Truman Sports Complex expires in 2031.
Sherman emphasized that should the team choose Clay County, it has no intention of breaking its lease with Jackson County.
“That would be a negotiation that would take place with Jackson County,” he said. “We’re not looking to break a lease, that won’t happen.”
The Royals also downplayed a Clay County poll recently obtained and published in the Kansas City Business Journal that indicated 70% of respondents opposed implementing a sales tax to help fund the proposed ballpark development.
The poll that included 300 registered Clay County voters was conducted by Bold Decision, a Washington D.C. firm.
“We aren’t sure who commissioned that poll,” said Sarah Tourville, Royals executive vice president. “What I can tell you is we’ve assembled a team of national and local experts with sophisticated polling experience.
“That polling data has been very constructive, and we can see a path to victory in both counties.”
One other thing both ballparks would have in common, neither would be named Kauffman Stadium.
The naming rights would be for sale, although Sherman said Ewing Kauffman, the team’s founder, would be saluted in some fashion.
“We haven’t honestly gotten that far but you can bet there’s certainly a way to honor him,” he said. “There’s economics that go into things and you’ve seen that throughout the league.”
Flatland contributor Kevin Collison is the founder of CityScene KC, an online source for downtown news and issues.