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Why the heck are the Royals talking about a downtown stadium?

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It seems like a solution few want.

Detroit Tigers v Kansas City Royals Photo by G. Newman Lowrance/Getty Images

Kauffman Stadium has been the home of the Royals since 1973. It has seen four World Series, hosted two All-Star games, and been the home of thousands of awesome (and not-so-awesome) memories for Royals fans. In 2007, the stadium underwent renovations to modernize the facility, leaving it arguably more beautiful and convenient for fans.

So why are the Royals talking about replacing it?

According to the Kansas City Star, the Royals have begun conversations with Jackson County and the city of Kansas City on potential sites for a downtown stadium. Two of the sites are adjacent to the Sprint Center, one is in the East Village near City Hall, and one is in the north loop. City Manager Troy Schulte insists these are very preliminary discussions.

“At this point it’s nothing more than hopes and dreams and discussions,”

The Royals, for their part, are just listening. When the subject of a downtown stadium came up in 2005, the team seemed to balk at relocating downtown, instead preferring renovating the existing facility. The current lease on Kauffman Stadium runs through 2030. Kevin Uhlich, the senior vice president of business operations, makes it clear the Royals just want to keep their options open.

“We’re perfectly content where we are, we think it works well,” Uhlich said. “Thirteen years from now, who knows what the situation is going to be? I can’t hold anybody back from doing what they’re doing on their side. We would listen.”

So if you love Kauffman Stadium and hate downtown baseball, I don’t think you have any reason to panic yet. The Royals will basically listen to any idea that makes them more money. If you can put a stadium in a soybean field in Peculiar, Missouri that will make them more money - they’ll listen.

Would relocating the Royals make sense for the Royals? Here are a few of my thoughts.

I like downtown baseball stadiums

It is probably better to say I love downtown baseball stadiums. Baseball works better downtown. If you have ever been to a downtown stadium you know how exciting and vibrant it is. More than half of all Major League teams now play downtown - and attendance has never been higher.

Downtown baseball stadiums give you more options. Right now, the Royals have a monopoly on their island out at Truman Sports Complex. If you want to get to the game, you have to pay them (Uber is starting to break this stranglehold a bit). If you want to grab a bite to eat before the game, you have to pay them (unless Denny’s is your thing). Being downtown gives fans more options to get to the game (walk, drive, bus, rail) and more eating options before and after the game.

There are some economic benefits touted for downtown baseball - although they should probably be taken with a grain of salt. The fact is, a stadium would only be filled with people 81 times a year for 3-5 hours, leaving a massive empty stadium for 284 dates, in real estate that could perhaps be better used on something used every day like restaurants, offices, or apartments.

Still, just for me, I like downtown baseball. Downtown baseball is different for Kansas Citians (even old Municipal Stadium wasn’t exactly in a downtown location), but would be a welcome change, in my opinion.

Kansas City is unnecessarily overly concerned with traffic and parking

So, the biggest complaint heard about a potential downtown baseball stadium in Kansas City is traffic and parking. The Truman Sports Complex sits at I-70 and I-435, two main highways through the metro. Downtown not only intersects with I-70, but you have access to Highway 71, Highway 169, and I-35. The Truman Sports Complex has two exits - I-70 and I-435 (you could also leave via Raytown Road, Blue Ridge Cutoff and there are a few other back-road routes). Downtown Kansas City has 23 highway exits.

Also, over 20,000 people actually live downtown. Getting to a downtown stadium would be super convenient for them. And unlike the TSC, not everyone would leave right after the game - some might linger around in bars near the stadium. There are also mass transit options, like the new streetcar, and a stadium may spur the development of more transit. There are 19 Major League Stadiums in urban, downtown locations, and all are similarly-sized or bigger than Kansas City. If they can handle the traffic, Kansas City can probably do so as well.

As far as parking, there are 40,000 parking spots in downtown Kansas City. A new stadium would almost certainly come with its own parking garage as well. And the power of capitalism would probably spur even more parking if demand necessitated it. I have parked my car near downtown stadiums in St. Louis, Seattle, Detroit, and Baltimore and have never had to walk more than a mile or pay more than $20, and these are all cities with more people than Kansas City.

It would take some adjustment, and yes, tailgating might be a thing of the past, but you can navigate downtown traffic and parking. I believe in you!

I love Kauffman Stadium

Okay, so I love downtown stadiums, but I also love this stadium. I’m not wild about the location, but the facility itself is marvelous. If I could somehow radioactively embiggen Billy Butler so that he could pick up Kauffman Stadium and move it downtown, I would (he needs the work).

Kauffman Stadium is also coming pretty close to historic status. It is now the sixth-oldest stadium in baseball. By the time the lease runs out in 2030, Kauffman will be 57 years old, the same age Wrigley Field was in 1971. Would Chicago have torn down Wrigley to build a grand new ballpark in the 70s? And what would we have lost if it had?

Brett reaching .401 in August of 1980. Motley for the title. Frank White diving on the Astroturf. Bo’s blast at the top of the grassy knoll. Saberhagen’s no-hitter. Salvy’s grounder past Josh Donaldson. Alex Gordon’s triple against the Giants. Hosmer’s bloop single against the Astros. Gordo’s homer against Familia. All of this happened at the K.

It is one of the most gorgeous and well-liked stadiums in baseball. Why fix something that isn’t broken?

I don’t like publicly financed stadiums

A lot of big public projects sound great until you get the price tag. For some, I’m willing to pay the costs as long as it gets us a public good that all can enjoy and benefit from. Roads. Parks. Schools. Police departments.

Even some quasi-public-private partnerships are worth public investment. Cordish is making a pretty penny off the Power and Light District, and while there are some issues with the project, there is no question downtown Kansas City is immeasurably better off for it.

But baseball stadiums as a public investment are a highly dubious concept. There is a wealth of literature on how owners of sports teams profit wildly, economic benefits are wildly inflated, and taxpayers lose from public financing of stadiums. The fact governments are now having to be highly secretive and undemocratic about financing stadiums is an illustration of how unpopular these corporate subsidies have gotten.

Estimates a decade ago put the stadium cost at $450 million. The new Braves stadium cost $672 million, costing taxpayers over $400 million. Look, I love sports, but if anyone should pay the costs of a stadium used for private profits, it should be the very wealthy owner of the team.

It all comes down to personal preference

I could probably give you all the facts pro and con for each scenario until I’m blue in the face, but this ultimately comes down to personal preference. If you live or spend a lot of time in downtown, you probably would prefer the stadium there. If you live in the suburbs and prefer driving ease and convenience, you probably prefer the stadium where it is. It’s all subjective, and there’s nothing wrong with your opinion.

Ultimately, I think more people will prefer the stadium where it is, if nothing more than that’s where it has always been, and there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with that. The Royals are just listening, and if there is a sweetheart deal from the city enticing enough, perhaps they will seriously consider moving downtown.

But my guess is that in 2031, when I’m taking my grandkids to see the Royals, we’ll be at Kauffman Stadium in the Truman Sports Complex. But we’ll probably hit a restaurant downtown first.

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Should Kansas City build a downtown baseball stadium?

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  • 26%
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  • 73%
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