A friend shot me today’s editorial from the Kansas City Star. The newspaper thinks it’s high time for city leaders and taxpayers to give the Royals a new downtown ballpark. The Chiefs too because, as one well knows, you can’t treat siblings differently.
If this is the first you’ve heard about the Royals either needing or wanting a new stadium, you’re not alone. It’s probably the first most people outside of Kansas City have heard of it. Or even thought of it, really, because the Royals have one of the most beautiful stadiums in all of baseball which got a $250 million renovation around ten years ago. Arrowhead, for what it’s worth, is considered one of the best and rowdiest stadiums in the NFL, hostile as all get-out for visiting teams. I can’t ever recall hearing baseball fans, baseball media, or Royals or Major League Baseball folks complaining about Kauffman or saying that the Royals need a new ballpark for any reason whatsoever, but now it’s a bubbling issue.
So why do they need a new stadium? According to the Star it’s because sports are supposed to be downtown and, renovations notwithstanding, Kauffman and Arrowhead “will be 60 years old” when their leases are up in 2031. Actually, they’ll be 58 and they’re just 45 now even before you take the renovations into account, but I suppose you round up sharply when you want something badly enough.
The only knock you consistently hear about Kauffman is that it’s out in the burbs next to a freeway exit. Setting aside the fact that, practically speaking, that makes getting in and out of the place quite easy, sure, it’s not as dramatic a setting as most ballparks. And depending on the growth and transit future of the region, Kauffman’s location may become a bigger problem than it is now and for reasons that go beyond aesthetics. As the editorial notes, the Braves’ fleeing-to-suburbia example notwithstanding, the trend is for ballparks to be built downtown these days.
Let us not be naive here, however. There are reasons for downtown construction — reasons consistent with the Braves’ move to Cobb County, actually — that motivate these schemes. Reasons going beyond aesthetics and traffic patterns. Reasons having to do with development:
Downtown baseball could be an incredible opportunity. Just picture it: the burgeoning city skyline atop the outfield fence. All manner of new businesses popping up to cater to crowds filling downtown streets. That spin-off effect is utterly missing in the desert island that is the taxpayer-subsidized Truman Sports Complex. Taxpayers deserve more bang for their considerable bucks.
Going downtown is Major League Baseball’s new look, and the promise of it has had hearts pounding in these parts for years. When the leases expire in 2031, the twin stadiums will be 60 years old. That’s awfully long in the tooth, and it makes the prospect of another extensive renovation questionable.
The article talks about “banking” land for a stadium project which, quite clearly, means gifting land to owner David Glass and the Royals either for free or on extraordinarily favorable and likely taxpayer-subsidized terms. And the reference to taxpayer bang-for-their-buck notwithstanding, any such development around a new park would no doubt inure to David Glass’ benefit just as much if not more. As we noted last week, that’s what team owners want now. Be it the Braves or anyone else, the future of big league moneymaking is in near-ballpark development and real estate projects. It’s been referred to as “The Atlanta model.” You think David Glass is going to look at the Braves partnering up to build office towers and hotels and accept anything that doesn’t give him a piece of that kind of action? He made his bones in the retail business, after all, growing Wal-Mart from a regional five and dime to the largest corporation on the planet.
I’d like to think that the people of Kansas City are smarter than that and will oppose such an unnecessary giveaway. If they fight it, though, they will no doubt have to fight against the will of city leaders who, the editorial notes, have already approached Glass, as if it’s their job to please him:
Here’s the latest on the prospects for a downtown baseball stadium: Royals owner David Glass hasn’t ruled it out.
City Manager Troy Schulte said his conversations with Glass associates have left the door open to that possibility.
“He (Glass) is saying, `Give us some options,’” Schulte said. “He has not said no.”
Folks, it’s not up for the owner of a private business to say “yes” or “no” to you and your leaders in government. It’s up to you to say “yes” or “no” to him. Tell David Glass no. Tell the Kansas City Star no. Tell the Royals that if they want a new ballpark, they can pay for it and the land on which it sits and which surrounds it.
UPDATE: It wasn’t all that long ago that the Kansas City Star was whistling a different tune on both a downtown stadium for the Royals and on the notion of corporate welfare for private business.