Ballpark author: ‘No question’ Royals should relocate to downtown Kansas City

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The Downtown Council of Kansas City’s Annual Luncheon in 2020 featured a keynote address centered around the idea of a downtown ballpark. The speaker, Paul Goldberger, literally wrote the book on ballparks.

That same year, Goldberger told an audience in Kansas City it wasn’t even a question as to whether the Royals should relocate downtown.

“I think the big question about a downtown ballpark is not who the architect would be but precisely where the site should be and how it would be paid for,” he said during a public discussion sponsored by the Kansas City Public Library.

“But for me, there’s no question that it’s the right thing for Kansas City to do. The thing that is least appealing about Kauffman is the location.”

Goldberger’s book, “Ballpark: Baseball in the American City,” examines and analyzes the history of baseball stadiums across the country and their role in American society.

“What we’ve seen in the years since Baltimore is how beautifully baseball integrates into an urban fabric,” Goldberger said during his talk at the library. “People want that. They like it. They love being able to walk or take a streetcar to a game. They love being able to have something to eat, drink, go to other places, combine it with other things and so forth.”

Economic impact beyond baseball

Recent examples of big-ticket Major League Baseball stadiums erected in downtown locations in major cities support Goldberger’s assertions that a ballpark could serve as a larger catalyst.

The Minnesota Twins opened 39,504-seat Target Field, a ballpark that sits on a site that was smaller than 95% of the ballparks in the majors at the time of its construction, in Minneapolis’ warehouse district in 2010.

Kansas City-based firm Populous designed the stadium, a $555 million project.

In the first year of the ballpark being open, 3.4 million spectators attended games there, and nearly 25% of attendees used some form of public transit. More than 300 non-game events were also held at the ballpark.

In the first fiscal year of the ballpark being open, a state analysis reportedly showed Target Field generated at least $169.3 million in economic activity and contributed to a 40% rise in liquor-tax revenue.

The San Diego Padres moved roughly 7 miles from what was at the time Qualcomm Stadium in a more suburban setting with a sea of surrounding parking to downtown San Diego and into Petco Park, a $453.4 million project that opened in 2004.

In July 2010, the outside agency Conventions, Sports & Leisure International conducted an assessment of the economic and fiscal impact of the Petco Park project.

CSL’s report included estimates of the spending within the local economy directly related to the presence of the Padres, the ballpark and the surrounding development, such as residential units, hotels, commercial and retail spaces, and found it brought in approximately $2.6 billion between 2003 and 2009, including approximately $1.3 billion in new spending to the local economy.

The estimated new economic output during that time span included almost $2 billion, 19,200 jobs and $780 million in earnings.

The estimated amount brought in by sales, transient occupancy and property tax revenue from 2000 to 2009 by the City of San Diego due to the project has surpassed $207 million, and approximately $110 million of that tax revenue had been retained by the City of San Diego and the Centre City Development Corporation, according to the report.

More than a baseball venue

A major shift took place in how ballparks were thought of and the design standard when construction finished on the Baltimore Orioles’ current home ballpark, Camden Yards, in 1992.

More focus went into fan amenities, pedestrian activity, style of architecture and, in a new twist, it featured the incorporation of a major building as part of its concourse.

Those innovations influenced minor league ballparks across the country, albeit on a smaller scale.

Jonathan O’Neil Cole, who has spent 25 years in the sports architecture field and who founded the Kansas City-based architecture firm Pendulum in 2007, points to an increased emphasis in the industry on the urban context, revitalization and using baseball as a tool to redevelop and revitalize.

That vision is clearly evident in places like Pittsburgh and its downtown stadium PNC Park, which opened in 2001.

“It’s 365. It’s live, work, play,” Cole said. “It’s part of the lifeblood of any major metropolitan city. Now, even second-tier, third-tier cities.”

In smaller cities such as Greenville, South Carolina, the minor-league ballpark Fluor Field sits in the center of the Entertainment District, and condos and apartments look into the ballpark from just beyond the left-field wall.

Pendulum designed CaroMont Health Park in the FUSE (Franklin Urban Sports & Entertainment) District in downtown Gastonia, North Carolina. Again on a smaller scale than a major metropolitan city, the $28 million, 5,000-seat ballpark on a minimal footprint serves as an anchor point for a $100 million development in the surrounding area.

That’s the type of prism through which Cole says people should view the opportunity for a downtown ballpark in Kansas City.

“As beautiful as the sports complex is, the downfall of it in modern terms is there’s no 365 life there,” Cole said. “It’s a sea of parking. You get there. You tailgate. You go in. You enjoy yourself, and you leave. I think that’s the tough part when you look at and have been in other cities.”

Whether trying to spark development in the East Village or 18th and Vine, he believes there has to be a catalyst for pedestrian activity, and a bank won’t bring in people at this scale and support infrastructure, like foot traffic created by a ballpark followed by demand for housing, retail and commercial space.

“That is really the only type of development that creates that,” Cole said. “Now, you start getting rooftops because you’ve got something that is intriguing, and pedestrian activity.”

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