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Royals propose new downtown Kansas City ballpark, development

It’s a model that has worked in other markets: The Kansas City Royals are proposing a new downtown Kansas City ballpark as part of a $2 billion development.

The plan, as unveiled by owner John Sherman in a letter to fans, would have the Royals committing to a downtown location instead of committing to long-term renovations at the team’s long-time home, Kauffman Stadium. This is long-term plan, to be sure: the team’s lease at the K ends at the end of the decade, so even taking into account three years for building the ballpark, the team is leaving plenty of time to work out a financing plan and solicit input from the community.

This is no surprise: Sherman has openly talked about the need for a new ballpark: renovating Kauffman Stadium for use for a modern game-day experience would likely cost more than a new open-air ballpark, and any money spent toward a new downtown Kansas City ballpark would yield far more economic spinoff than the Truman Sports Complex would. Plus, a new ballpark would yield up some new revenue strands–like naming rights. Kauffman Stadium is a beloved ballpark, and while it looks like there will be homages to the K in the new ballpark (the renderings show a curved grandstand a la Kauffman), we’re guessing it won’t be a copy of Kauffman as much as a homage.

Nothing about this should be a surprise:  in an era where team owners expect a ballpark to generate revenue outside of game days and baseball teams are becoming de facto real-estate developers (i.e., The Battery and Wrigleyville), Sherman positioning the idea of a new downtown Kansas City ballpark as an economic proposal is something he’s been discussing for months.

Here’s the letter from Sherman:

To our dedicated Royals fans and the Kansas City community:

I am reaching out to you on two fronts. First, I want to thank you for your support this past season.  While we were not satisfied with our results on the field, the future of our baseball club under the leadership of J.J. Picollo and new manager Matt Quatraro holds great promise. Our objective is to return to form and compete for a championship on behalf of the great fans of Kansas City.

Second, as we look to the future, I want to share with you our perspective on Kauffman Stadium, our treasured home for the last half century. We have enjoyed many exciting moments together at the Truman Sports Complex over the years. In the spirit of Ewing Kauffman, our current mission is to look ahead to ensure that Major League Baseball and the Kansas City Royals will thrive in this region for decades to come.

Following Mr. K’s original vision for the franchise, we also want to ensure that we have a world-class ballpark that stays competitive with our peers nationwide and best serves our community to the fullest. Kansas City is evolving into a leading sports destination – demonstrated by the NFL Draft, the KC Current’s new stadium, the World Cup – and much more yet ahead. These developments, along with a new KCI airport terminal, are transforming our region.

As you may already know, it’s become challenging to maintain The K. When its current lease with Jackson County concludes at the end of this decade, it will be 60 years old. The renovations required at The K to achieve our objectives would cost as much or more than the price tag to develop a new ballpark. A new home would be a far better investment, both for local taxpayer dollars already supporting our facility, and for the Kansas City community.

A year ago, we announced that we were undertaking a diligent, deliberate, and transparent process to explore the possibility of a new ballpark district. We said we would look at various locations across the city that will allow for residential, commercial, and community components. We are excited to now share that we have several leading locations under close consideration, both in downtown Kansas City and close to it.

Each site offers unique opportunities. We look forward to seeking input from the public over the coming months about our vision to best serve our residents and build on the momentum our city is experiencing. To accomplish this move, our plans will be contingent on continuing our public-private partnership and investment with multiple local jurisdictions and the State of Missouri.

I’d like to share our latest thinking and criteria as we continue our exploration with you:

  • Wherever we play baseball, we will seek out efforts that result in real and measurable 1) community impact, 2) economic growth, and 3) an enhanced quality of life for the citizens of our region, with emphasis on historically under-represented members of our community.
  • Our vision is to not just build a facility that does justice to the spirit of The K. We want to construct a world-class experience – a new ballpark district and all that comes with it – one that is woven into the fabric of our city, can host events and concerts, and boosts our local economy.   We also envision incorporating our Kansas City fountains, the Royals’ crown and our team’s rich traditions and history in a new ballpark district.
  • The proposed ballpark district would become a new home for Royals fans far and wide – both inside a state-of-the-art ballpark and in the revitalized surrounding area. We will marry the traditions of The K with a better experience for our fans.
  • With a mixture of public and private investment, including our own intention to invest hundreds of millions of dollars directly into the ballpark and the ballpark district, the long-term vision remains a work-in-progress. We envision local restaurants and shops, office spaces, hotels, and a variety of housing opportunities accessible for Kansas Citians from all walks of life. Affordable housing options will be important to our efforts. We would also work closely with our local transportation leaders to ensure public transportation options accommodate a new ballpark district.
  • Going forward with this process would result in the largest public-private development project in Kansas City history, expected to be $2 billion as currently envisioned. Construction of this new ballpark district could create 20,000 jobs, $1.4 billion in labor income,and an estimated $2.8 billion in total economic output, as well as spur additional adjacent investment.
  • We anticipate that the inaugural year of the new ballpark will drive approximately $185 million more in regional economic outputthan The K does today. Greater regional visitation will sustain more than 600 new jobs, and spending at the new ballpark district and across the region will drive more than $60 million in new taxrevenue over the first decade.
  • A new ballpark can also spur meaningful new investment around it. New development around the ballpark could attract 2,200 onsite jobs, with employment representing $200 million in annual labor income and more than $500 million in annual economic output.

Underpinning all our planning are two guiding principles. First, we would not ask Jackson County citizens to contribute any more tax dollars than you already do today. Second, we want to take these steps together, with your input and engagement, as a community.

Please know that any final decisions will be made with broad community input, and in the best interests of our fans, the Royals’ long-term future, and our Greater Kansas City community.

In the next several months, to “keep the line moving,” we will 1) embark on a listening tour throughout our region to discuss our plan, our vision and the economic benefits with our community, partners and political leaders, and 2) begin in earnest a discussion with Local, State, and Federal officials regarding possible additional sources of funds to help make this project a reality.

Above all, any decision we reach will consider Kansas City at the forefront. Transparency will continue to be our guidepost.

Finally, a personal note. This is my hometown. This community means a great deal to me. This is also why I bought the team — along with a group of Kansas Citians who are passionately committed to our community, and who believe in all that it can become in the next 50 years and beyond. 

Ewing Kauffman once said, “Basically, the reason I got into the baseball business was because I believe the people of Kansas City and this great metropolitan area should have a Major League Baseball team.”  There are 25 markets in America who have a team like our Boys in Blue, and we’re grateful to be a major league city. We want to make sure that we not only put a good product on the field, but have a uniquely positive impact off the field — in the community we love.    

From the Royals World Series Championship teams of 1985 and 2015, to the Monarchs and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, and to your support and dedication throughout the decades, our city possesses a rich baseball history. If this proposal moves forward, we see this development as another storied chapter for Kansas City.

We’d very much look forward to writing it together. 

Yours truly,

John Sherman

What’s next: Lots more planning. Sherman at one point raised the possibility of opening in 2026. That’s seems to be very, very optimistic. There will be plenty of opposition to a new downtown ballpark for plenty of reasons; past polls showed opposition to the notion, and there will those arguing against any public money for a new ballpark when there is a perfectly adequate facility in Kauffman Stadium. Plus, big projects take big time, so it could take many years before a new downtown Kansas City ballpark opens.

Renderings courtesy Kansas City Royals.

RELATED STORIES: Sherman: Why not dream big about a new Royals downtown ballpark?; New downtown Royals ballpark seems to be a matter of when, not if; New Kansas City ballpark may impact Truman Sports Complex; Sherman: Royals looking at new downtown Kansas City ballparkNew Royals Owner Open to Downtown KC BallparkMLB Approves Sale of Royals to John Sherman-Led GroupPending Royals Sale Could Fuel Talks of New Kansas City BallparkLocal Investors Buy Kansas City Royals From Glass Family

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