Key KC stadium tax deadline looms. Can Chiefs, Royals & Jackson County pull off a deal?

An aerial view of Arrowhead Stadium (bottom) and Kauffman Stadium at the Truman Sports Complex in Kansas City, Mo., on April 26, 2023.

Whether a tax for a new downtown Royals stadium and renovations to Arrowhead stadium goes before voters this spring will come down to a Monday meeting of the Jackson County Legislature.

As things stood Friday, legislators had the numbers to sustain the latest veto from County Executive Frank White Jr. That would keep the stadiums tax off the April ballot and give the county more time to negotiate and formalize deals with both teams.

But there’s plenty of time between now and Monday afternoon for Jackson County to broker a deal with the Chiefs and Royals that would shift things enough for the legislature to override the veto and get the stadium sales tax measure in front of voters.

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas said so in a social media post on Thursday as he seconded county legislator Sean Smith, who said he was confident an agreement could be reached “if all parties devote the next several days and endeavor to reach mutually acceptable agreements.”

But that is a very big “if.”

Several major issues remain to be resolved before the legislature meets at 3 p.m. on Monday to decide whether that April 2 vote will take place or not.

Three of the biggest unanswered questions about a stadium deal that trouble White and his allies on the legislature:

Where will the Royals build their new downtown ballpark — the East Village, or where the former Kansas City Star printing plant sits empty in the Crossroads? And if it’s the Star site, how might the Royals assemble enough land to make it work, as the Star property alone is not big enough for a ballpark? The team hasn’t said.

What are the Chiefs’ plans for renovations at Arrowhead Stadium? All we’ve heard are vague generalities.

And how much would each team contribute financially to the projects? They haven’t announced any dollar figures.

Absent those answers and several other commitments from the teams, Smith and three of his colleagues on the nine-member County Legislature have said they would not be comfortable asking voters to pay for the stadiums.

And four votes is all it would take to back up White’s veto and block the ballot measure.

Yet as of Friday afternoon, no official negotiating sessions between the county and the teams had been scheduled.

In a terse statement the teams issued Thursday evening, the Royals and Chiefs jointly said they respected White’s veto authority and would “continue working with the legislators to ensure that this ordinance is on the ballot on April 2 so that Jackson County voters have the opportunity to decide on the extension of the current 3/8-cent sales tax.”

What the teams didn’t say is whether working with legislators would mean trying to address the concerns of the four who said they would sustain White’s veto, or whether they plan to lobby each legislator individually in hopes of convincing at least one of them to change their position.

In a post on X, formerly Twitter, legislator Manny Abarca seemed to endorse the latter approach by encouraging residents to put pressure on his colleagues to override White’s veto on Monday.

“Now call your legislators,” he wrote. “Particularly @JalenAAnderson and Charlie Franklin as the others have chosen to risk losing the teams and aligning with

@JCEFrankWhite than allowing the voters to decide.”

Neither team has threatened to leave Kansas City. Jalen Anderson was one of three legislators who signed a joint letter addressed to county residents on Thursday saying the trio supports White’s veto. Megan Marshall and chair Jeanie Lauer also signed that letter.

Franklin has made no public statement but would be a key swing vote in the final outcome. Abarca is part of a four-member bloc that supports putting the tax to a vote in April before all the key issues are addressed.

What does the county want to see in a deal?

Anderson, Marshall and Lauer listed 10 issues that need to be resolved before they would ask voters to approve a sales tax that would last 40 years and cost taxpayers what White estimated to be $2 billion over that period.

Smith issued a separate statement in support of a veto, but without listing specific concerns

The teams have already agreed to two of the 10 issues, at least informally. They will give up the $3.5 million a year they get from the parks property tax levy and agree to pay the insurance costs for both stadiums, two costs the county is currently covering.

Beyond the Royals ballpark location, the teams’ financial commitments and plans for Arrowhead — the legislators made the following five demands:

  • That teams promise to continue giving preferential treatment to Jackson County residents for buying tickets.

  • That both teams agree to keep their front offices and Chiefs’ training facility in Jackson County, something that has come into question as other NFL teams develop offsite practice facilities.

  • That the teams agree to pay fair rental fees that would keep pace with inflation.

  • That the teams would pay for the demolition of Kauffman Stadium.

  • And that there be “enforceable agreements for long-term community benefits.” Local labor groups have called for the teams to make promises about workers’ wages in the stadium, for example.

Taking to social media, Abarca said such issues will be addressed before Election Day. If people aren’t happy with the leases that would be negotiated between now and then, they can vote no on renewing the tax, he said.

Mike White, the attorney for the sports complex authority, says all agreements would be signed by March 1. But for all voters to have that information available to them before casting their ballots, it would have to be done by Feb. 16, which is the first day for members of the military and overseas voters to vote absentee.

Regular absentee voting starts Feb. 20.

Why an April vote?

White and the four legislators who supported his veto say there is no reason for the rush when the teams’ current leases don’t expire for another seven years.

And while they understand that the teams would like to get things moving now, Missouri has two other election dates on its calendar, in August and November.

The teams would rather have the vote in April, when it would likely be the only thing on the ballot and turnout would be much lower thanks to the August primary and a presidential election.

Among several other considerations that play into the teams’ preferred schedule, the Missouri General Assembly will still be in session in April, when the teams would hope to get legislative approval for a state aid package.

Politics might also come into play in Jefferson City later in the year, if Gov. Mike Parson were to call for a special session to vote on an aid package in August. As a lame duck, Parson would have nothing to lose, but legislators hoping to stay in office might be less likely to vote in favor of assisting billionaire sports franchise owners so close to the general election.

Late Friday afternoon, The Star learned that the teams had submitted an updated letter of intent to the county sports complex authority that addresses many of the county’s concerns.