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Royals owner John Sherman considering downtown ballpark after current lease expires

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The Royals are exploring all their options.

Kansas City skyline from Crown Center, MO Photo by: Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Royals owner John Sherman announced the club is already exploring options on where to play once the lease for Kauffman Stadium expires in 2030, and those options could include a new ballpark downtown. He broke the news at a press conference on Tuesday afternoon where he announced promotions for Dayton Moore to club president and J.J. Picollo to general manager.

“We’re a little beyond just listening to others’ ideas. 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.”

Sherman has said to be a long-time booster for a downtown ballpark, telling Kevin Collison of CitySceneKC in 2020 that “baseball creates more economic opportunity in denser areas versus suburban areas or less dense areas.” He emphasized that point again on Tuesday, saying that one factor in deciding where the Royals would play would be how much economic impact a stadium would create “in a real and measurable way”, particularly for underrepresented communities.

Sherman did not indicate how much a new stadium would cost or how it would be funded, only saying that he anticipated it would be a public-private partnership. In 2006, voters approved stadium renovations to Kauffman and Arrowhead Stadiums through a 3/8 cent sales tax, with taxpayers spending $225 million to renovate the baseball stadium alone while the Royals contributed $25 million. The most recent new ballpark in Arlington, Texas that opened last year cost $1.2 billion with taxpayers paying $500 million. The new Braves ballpark in suburban Atlanta that opened in 2017 cost $672 million, with taxpayers paying $300 million. The Athletics have proposed a project in Oakland that would privately finance a $1 billion stadium, but with around $855 million in public infrastructure costs for a $12 billion real estate development around the stadium.

Sherman also did not give any indication on where exactly downtown they would consider a new ballpark if they decide to go in that direction. The site that has been most discussed is the East Village just northeast of City Hall. The land is already assembled by VanTrust Real Estate and sits near the J.E. Dunn Construction headquarters. The Dunn family is part of the Royals ownership group. Sherman told Collison, “ The East Village is certainly a spot that could be of interest,” adding, “I think there’s a top architectural firm or two who think this is a good spot.”

The North Loop has also been considered for a ballpark, across the freeway from the River Market. Collison reports that a plot near Southwest Boulevard off Cambridge Circle has also been considered. The owner of the Kansas City Star building across from Sprint Center. suggested converting that property into a baseball stadium. However, the site may not be large enough for a stadium development, and would probably require capping the south loop and covering I-70.

The Royals are not committing moving downtown just yet, but the fact Sherman brought it up as a possibility and that pieces are already moving should be pretty telling. There are still a lot of obstacles. Parking and traffic will be concerned raised by many fans - although there are currently 40,000 parking spots downtown and several exits to enter and exit the downtown loop, plus a new stadium will likely come with a new parking garage and road upgrades. Land assembly and clearance is more of an obstacle now that downtown has been revitalized in a lot of areas. A new stadium cannot face west, which means a stadium location on the east side of downtown won’t get the city skyline. Funding will be an issue, as taxpayer appetite for funding stadiums for billion-dollar sports teams may be waning. And nostalgia and love for Kauffman Stadium - which turns 50 in two years - will make it difficult for fans to consider tearing it down.

John Sherman has had a pretty low profile since taking over as majority owner of the Royals. How he navigates the end of the current lease and where the Royals play after that could determine much of his legacy.

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