The Royals held their first public forum on a downtown ballpark district on Tuesday, giving more details on the project, but still leaving many questions unanswered. Royals CEO John Sherman and other executives answer pre-screened questions in front of a few hundred attendees and a few reporters, covering topics from cost to parking to why the team even needs a new stadium. Here’s a summary of what we know and don’t know about the new ballpark district project.
How much will this cost?
This seems to be the first question on everyone’s mind. Sherman put the price tag on the overall project at $2 billion, with $1 billion for the stadium itself and an additional $1 billion on the surrounding district, including restaurants and shops, office spaces, hotels and housing. There will likely be necessary infrastructure and transit upgrades as well.
How will this be paid for?
Another great question that the Royals have been very vague on! Sherman has consistently called this a public-private partnership, and Tuesday he insisted that the bulk of the financing would come from private sources.
“We would expect that private capital would take care of a major part of the ballpark and that private capital would develop all of the ballpark district around the ballpark.”
Yet despite having an overall price tag on the project, how much will be privately financed remains a mystery.
Exactly how the Royals will ask public money to pay for the district is also unclear. Jackson County currently has a 3/8th-cent sales tax to pay for renovations to the Truman Sports Complex that began in 2006 and run until the leases expire in 2031.
In his initial open letter to fans announcing the project, Sherman wrote “we would not ask Jackson County citizens to contribute any more tax dollars than you already do today.” That seems to suggest the team will ask voters to approve continuing the sales tax past 2031. At the forum, the Royals suggested the very earliest such a measure could go before voters would be August of 2023.
The Royals have not indicated this, but my guess is that some of the project will be financed through tax increment financing. This is a financing tool that is used very liberally in Kansas City where the property tax revenues of a district are frozen, and any increase in revenues are diverted away into a special fund to pay off costs associated with the development. It was used to help develop the Power and Light District in addition to numerous other projects around town.
Why not just renovate Kauffman Stadium?
Kauffman Stadium is a jewel, but its location is a major drawback for some that want a more vibrant surrounding area. Sherman was asked why the area around the Truman Sports Complex had not been developed in fifty years, but no one on the panel had a good answer for that.
Team executives also insisted that the costs of renovation to make the stadium viable for the long-term would be around $1.072 billion, more than the cost of a new stadium.
Among the major takeaways, according to Dempster, included evidence of “cancer of the concrete” in the structure that could require major removal in order to extend the life another 30 years.
Other issues Dempster highlighted included: leakage in the fountain and pump room that has caused deterioration in the steel and concrete structure, rust issues in the right field tunnel as well as the canopy steel supports and light towers and the need to replace the front row tubs in the upper deck.
That claim warrants some skepticism, and renovating a stadium for $1 billion is still less than building a new ballpark district for $2 billion. But Wrigley Field underwent renovations a few years ago that were projected to cost $550 million and ended up costing $740 million. It is probably more accurate to say that the costs of renovating Kauffman Stadium to add the revenue streams the team wants will cost nearly the same as a new ballpark.
Where will this ballpark district be located?
Downtown! That’s about as specific as the team has been so far. Sherman said the team has reviewed 14 sites, but has been mum about where. Some of this is understandable - if they announce a location before land has been acquired, the acquisition cost goes up. The most likely location seems to be the East Loop, which has many vacant lots and several government buildings that create a dead area at night. But other locations have been rumored such as a site near 18th and Vine, one near the River Market, the site of the former Kansas City Star printing press, and one near Cambridge Circle.
Where will people park?
Yes, where will we put all these cars? Earl Santee of the stadium architecture firm Populous said the team would need around 10-11,000 parking spots, and that there are 55,000 spots downtown.
Santee said Populous did a parking study that found there were 2 1/2 times the available parking spaces downtown as at the Truman Sports Complex within a 10-minute walk to a new downtown ballpark, and that the parking setup would work concurrently with any events at the T-Mobile Center.
Downtown ballparks have frequently had parking garages attached to them, so it seems fair to expect the same here, particularly with Kansas City’s car-centric nature. But specifics on parking will not be clear until a site is announced.
Why should the Royals get taxpayer money?
The timing to ask taxpayers for any money for a team that has had six consecutive losing seasons and is coming off a 97-loss season is a bit curious, especially since the team has signaled it does not intend to spend much money to improve the team this off-season. Sherman says that they will let the young players develop, and when the time is right the team will invest “heavily” on the on-field product, with revenues from this project going directly into investments in the team.
Of course, you may be asking why any professional sports team deserves taxpayer money for a private enterprise. Sherman has stressed that the project would be an investment in the community, resulting in measurable community impact, economic growth, and an enhanced quality of life for Kansas Citian. His open letter also touted the creation of jobs and economic benefits, but these kinds of claims from sports teams are nearly always heavily exaggerated.
At the forum, team executive Sarah Tourville said the Royals would embrace “community benefits agreements” that could include public benefits like the creation of affordable housing, childcare access or new public spaces and parks. But the project has already elicited some backlash from KC Tenants, a tenant union, who issued a statement critical of the potential for gentrification.
When will this happen?
The Royals have offered no timeline, and as mentioned above, the earliest they could get a vote to extend the sales tax is next August. The Royals might want to get out of the Truman Sports Complex before 2026, when it will be the site of World Cup games, since the event would likely displace the team for a bit. But it seems unlikely the Royals would be able to move out of the complex by then.
What will the stadium look like?
The Royals have released some initial renderings you can view at kcballparkdistrict.com, but there will definitely be changes made along the way. The site also says they envision incorporating “Kansas City fountains, the Royals’ crown, and our team’s rich traditions and history in a new ballpark district” and “will marry the traditions of The K with a vastly improved experience for our fans.”
Could the Royals leave Kansas City if they don’t get what they want?
The Royals would seem to have options to relocate the team if they don’t get what they want, either to the Kansas side of the metro, or to another city altogether like Las Vegas or Nashville. But when asked point blank if he could promise the team would not leave Kansas City, Missouri, Sherman assured fans that the team is not leaving the city.
Final question to John Sherman: Can you make a promise Royals won't leave Kansas City, Missouri? "We can do that," Sherman said— Blair Kerkhoff (@BlairKerkhoff) December 14, 2022
Will this make the team more competitive?
We shall see! There is a trend around baseball to develop ballpark districts that can provide additional revenues, so the Royals are simply trying to keep up with their competition. These revenues are even more enticing because they do not have to be shared under baseball’s revenue-sharing system, which the Royals do actually pay into (and receive far more in return).
Sherman pledged to use the revenues from the project on improving the team.
“I would tell you, when the time is right, we will invest money in this ballclub. I would also tell you that whatever revenue that we grow through the development of this ballpark of the district, we’re going to put it on the field to make ourselves more competitive.”
Whether or not he actually does remains to be seen. The Royals have dabbled in free agency a bit under Sherman, signing mid-tier free agents like Carlos Santana and Mike Minor, but have been very quiet this off-season. History suggests that small-market teams in Cleveland, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati initially spent on player payroll when new stadiums opened, but that spending did not always last. If the taxpayers approve a new ballpark district for the Royals, expect there to be immense pressure for ownership to spend much more on the team.