Kansas City’s Courtship of the Royals Is Getting Awkward
Since their founding over 50 years ago, the Kansas City Royals have played their home games in Kansas City proper, but last month, the team announced they were considering a new stadium site north of the river and outside Kansas City’s city limits.
Kansas City Mayor Quentin Lucas declared that “Kansas City will not now engage in an intrastate regional race to the bottom that ultimately does little more than fleecing our taxpayers”—which is the right policy position to take! Meanwhile, Jackson County executive and former Royal Frank White echoed similar sentiments, suggesting county taxpayers deserved “loyalty” from the Royals.
In relationship terms, the snap response by Kansas City civic leaders had the tone of a bad breakup and a badly spurned partner. But that tone shifted in recent weeks, after the Royals’ management team confirmed that a second site was also under consideration just east of Kansas City’s downtown, within KC’s city limits.
For a moment, it seemed like a longshot attempt at making up was afoot. Yet, the Royals haven’t said much more to the public about the potential Kansas City plan . . . and apparently they haven’t said much to city leadership about it, either:
Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas said Friday the Kansas City Royals need to flesh out details for a downtown ballpark.
Lucas said to KMBC’s Micheal Mahoney on Friday that no one is hearing enough details about the Royals’ downtown plans.
“Here are the things that need to be shared with the citizens of Kansas City — and in my view — today,” Lucas said. “Why the need for a move? What’s the plan for, perhaps, wherever they’re going? And what’s the funding idea?”
Lucas said the longer those questions are unanswered, the more challenging it becomes for the plans to be successful.
The fact that Mayor Lucas suggests that the Royals should stay in Kauffman Stadium is itself somewhat jarring if you know what direction the team was heading in the last few years and what the mayor himself was supporting. From a story in November:
Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Quinton Lucas predicts a new Royals stadium will be in and near downtown Kansas City. (emphasis mine)
Lucas spoke with reporters minutes after Royals owner John Sherman announced plans to move the team from Kauffman Stadium.
“The Royals will be somewhere, I’m predicting, between the river,” Lucas said. “North of 31st Street, but let’s be even clearer, probably north of the train tracks that are about at 22nd Street. And then probably somewhere between the state line and of course, I would say Woodland (Avenue).”
Take from that what you will. The Royals should pay for their own stadium wherever they go, and if they stay in the Truman Sports Complex, they should pay their way there, too. But for the last year, the Royals staying put has not been what the city has been preparing for. Quite the opposite, in fact.
But while city leaders have every right to ask what a professional sports team is going to want from the public, the public has every right to ask its elected officials what taxpayer resources they’re willing to give away. And that definitely applies here, where city and county representations in private to the team have, to date, not been made public.
Here are some questions Kansas City’s (and Jackson County’s) leaders need to answer about their plans for the stadium:
- How much could subsidizing a new stadium for the Royals cost taxpayers?
- Are the city and county committed to massive new spending on both the Kansas City Royals and the Kansas City Chiefs, or are there fiscal limitations that city and county leaders won’t violate?
- What are those limitations?
- What city services will be affected by these tax expenditure choices?
- And why should Kansas City and Jackson County taxpayers continue to be on the hook for an amenity that the entire region enjoys?
To reiterate, no public money should go to a project like this, but if money is being spent on private sports teams, Kansas City and Jackson County taxpayers deserve respect and transparency. Taxpayer money spent on sports stadiums is a waste, and it also takes away from other vital public services such as policing
Maybe Kansas City and the Royals will kiss and make up, or maybe the team and the city are in an uncanny valley before an inevitable break up. But whether it’s a make up or a break up, billions of taxpayer dollars are at stake.
Update: Royals owner John Sherman told media today: “No one is waiting on us. We are the urging party.”