Royals’ owner asks community to kick the tires on a downtown baseball stadium

·4 min read

Well, here we go.

After months of whispering and speculation, Royals group owner John Sherman said publicly (and vaguely) Tuesday that the team, along with the Chiefs and Jackson County, is examining the possibility of playing its games somewhere else in the area.

That, of course, means potentially building a new stadium downtown.

“I guess we’re a little bit beyond just listening to others’ ideas,” Sherman told reporters on a Zoom call. “We are conducting an internal process to help us evaluate our options for where we play. And one of those options is to play downtown baseball.”

This discussion will likely dominate Kansas City politics, and regional politics, for years. It may be the biggest single financial investment local taxpayers will ever be asked to make.

It will dominate every conversation, in every bar, on every talk show, from now until the question is decided, one way or another, or until the teams’ leases expire in 2031, whichever comes first.

So we should be clear at the outset. If John Sherman of the Royals, or Clark Hunt of the Chiefs, want to spend their own money, or borrow money, to build new stadiums in the region, they are free to do so. They will have the blessings of hundreds of thousands of fans.

Others would be less happy. A downtown baseball stadium would create problems from increased traffic and inadequate parking, for example.

A new stadium might help some parts of downtown, although the areas around the Truman Sports Complex remain almost as barren today as they were in the early 1970s. It might also be a headache for those now living downtown.

Downtown baseball would not significantly improve attendance. The Royals drew 2.7 million fans in 2015, a record, at Kauffman Stadium. Why? Because they won the World Series. Performance is more important than location, every time.

But attendance and parking concerns pale in comparison to the only thing that really matters: How much will it cost, and who will pay for it?

Sherman said Tuesday a “public-private partnership” is likely, which means taxpayers. They will unquestionably be asked to spend hundreds of millions of dollars, perhaps billions, for new stadiums if these plans are pursued.

The Minnesota Twins’ downtown stadium cost $591 million in 2010. If the Royals build downtown in, say, 2028, the cost for a similar facility could easily top $750 million.

That might be manageable. But the football Chiefs can’t and won’t be left behind: The team will almost certainly insist on similar treatment. Did you see the Las Vegas Raiders’ new digs? Allegiant Stadium cost $2 billion. Taxpayers provided $750 million of that.

Regional tax could include Johnson County, Kansas

If Kansas City is to have a real conversation about stadiums, the teams — and public officials — must be much more candid about the actual cost, which could easily approach $1.5 billion. If the past is prologue, the public portion of that expense could reach $1 billion, not counting interest on the debt.

It’s possible a regional tax (we’re looking at you, Johnson County) could meet that price tag, and a regional mechanism exists to put a stadium tax on the ballot. But let’s ask a more fundamental question: If we have $1 billion, are new stadiums the best use of the money?

Schools must be open. Roads must be fixed and bridges built. Mass transit will change in the years ahead. Health care, homelessness and crime remain major concerns.

Kansas City loves the Chiefs and Royals, particularly when they’re winning. But their plans cannot be accepted without debate, or under a perceived threat that either team might leave. To their enormous credit, neither franchise has played that card in the past and shouldn’t start now.

Sherman offered no timetable for a final decision, but the calendar will play a role. It took years for voters to approve funds for the Truman Complex; new facilities will take even longer. And construction is a two- to three-year process.

We’ve got about three years to figure this out.

In 2019, while running for mayor, Quinton Lucas compared a downtown baseball stadium to a Maserati. We’re not sure what has changed in the two years since that would alter that view.

But John Sherman has asked Kansas City to join him on the new car lot, to kick the tires. Here we go.

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