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In Independence, the Kansas City Royals make the final pitch for a new downtown baseball district | CUR 89.3

The Kansas City Royals hosted the latest stop on their community listening tour Wednesday on their proposal to move out of Kauffman Stadium and build a downtown ballpark and surrounding entertainment district.

Royals majority owner John Sherman, team executives and an architectural consultant told an audience at the Midwest Genealogy Center in Independence, Missouri, how the benefits of a downtown stadium would affect the entire metro area economically.

Wednesday’s session, the last of three community listening opportunities, was the only stop outside of Kansas City, Missouri, where concerns largely focused on the proposed stadium’s possible impact on affordability of the lodgings.

Jackson’s East County crowd took the opportunity to ask instead what would be lost if the team leaves the Truman Sports Complex.

“We recognize where ‘The K’ is today and its proximity,” said Brooks Sherman, Royals chief operating officer. But team delegates focused their responses more on the positive impact of a new downtown presence.

Sherman said the new stadium and surrounding neighborhood could attract more than 2,000,000 fans a year.

“To give those fans — whether they’re in Kansas City or from the opposing team — an area with a stadium and development around it,” he said, “that really shines a bright light in a very positive context on the whole region”.

Local businesses affected

Former Independence Mayor Eileen Weir said most of the city’s hotel tax revenue is a direct result of Royals home games.

While he doesn’t expect things to change if the Royals move downtown, Weir said the real impact of a move would be on local small businesses.

“Dixon’s Chili, Hi-Boy, V restaurant — those places, and even QuikTrip, gas stations and supermarkets,” Weir said. “You see people go there before and after a Royals game.”

Other members of the public expressed concern about basic questions like: How much should Jackson County taxpayers pay for the new facility?

Brooks Sherman has not yet been able to provide a clear answer. The current team development proposal depends on Jackson County voters extending a ⅜ cent sales tax to pay for renovations to the Truman Sports Complex.

“You can’t give an exact number on this today,” he said. “That changes with interest rates. This changes to: What is the length of time the tax is deferred?

Majority owner John Sherman, no relation of Brooks Sherman, said the Royals will be the largest investor in the project.

“We believe that to make sure this team thrives in this community for the next 30, 40 or 50 years, we have a world-class ballpark,” he said. “It creates economic activity 365 days a year and that’s why we’re calling for it to be a public partnership.”

As he has at previous community meetings, John Sherman said most of the funding will come from private sources.

The Royals ownership team said maintenance costs at Kauffman Stadium through 2031, when the current lease expires, would equal or exceed the cost to build a new ballpark.

Losing trends

The team didn’t give Kansas City fans much to cheer about in the 2022 season. They finished last in the American League Central, with 65 wins and 97 losses.

“We weren’t happy with the 2022 results,” said John Sherman. “In fact, the most disappointing part is that we expected to be better.”

The Royals also ranked 26th out of 30 teams in overall stadium attendance. Only Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Miami and Oakland fared worse.

Many at the meeting noted that the businesses around the stadium thrive even more when the team is winning and more fans attend the matches.

Losing trends on the ground may not help when Jackson County taxpayers are asked to extend the sales tax by ⅜ cents, a move that could come as early as August.

“If it was today, I think it would be very challenging,” said Weir, who has lived in Independence for more than 30 years.

The former mayor said he doesn’t believe the Royals provide enough information — particularly about the site the Royals will ultimately select — for that extension to be granted.

If a tax extension is granted by voters this summer, Sherman expects a three-year construction period, making 2027 the earliest the Royals could move to a new stadium. The current lease with Jackson County runs through 2031.

Team reps have not provided a timetable for when a site will be selected. They’ve narrowed it down to four or five locations, all in the city center.

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