On Monday, Jackson County legislator Dan Tarwater asked Jackson County Executive Frank White if his office was conducting any “feasibility studies” for a new baseball stadium downtown.
White’s chief of staff, Caleb Clifford, said no.
But the full story is more complicated. Sources tell The Star that downtown interests — led by the Downtown Council, a business group — and a county official met with the Royals within the past 90 days to talk about a ballpark in the heart of the city.
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It does not appear the discussion involved concrete plans for a new stadium. Instead, it consisted of a review of previous ideas in this realm.
Jon Copaken, a downtown developer and planner, has pushed for a downtown stadium for years and appears to be behind the Downtown Council’s continuing interest in the idea.
Copaken could not be reached for comment.
Clifford would not confirm or deny taking part in the session, following questions from The Star. A statement attributed to White’s office said: “We have been and will continue to be open to listening and discussing” the future status of the Truman Sports Complex.
The Royals would make no public comment.
In the meeting, sources tell The Star, the team indicated it still has no interest in moving to a downtown stadium. The team’s opposition has long been a hurdle to any serious discussion of downtown baseball.
Jackson County now says it isn’t keen on the idea, either. “The County is not advocating for, nor funding any efforts for any stadium relocation,” the county’s statement said.
This is encouraging and welcome news. The last thing Jackson County needs to think about right now is asking voters to build a new baseball stadium.
The county faces a growing crisis at its jail. Deaths, beatings, allegations of guards bringing contraband into the facility, reports of filthy conditions, overcrowding — the jail needs immediate and undivided attention from the county executive and the legislature.
The stadiums, on the other hand, underwent major renovations less than a decade ago. Both the Royals and Chiefs have existing leases that extend to 2031, with options for further extensions after that. Neither team has raised the issue of relocation.
That’s significant. The cost of a new stadium for the Royals would be staggering, $650 million or more. And Jackson County officials know the Chiefs would ask for and expect similar funds if a downtown stadium were ever built.
Kansas City voters, to their credit, recently approved spending $800 million for infrastructure repairs. This November, they may be asked to approve a $1 billion airport terminal project. Now is not the time to muddy the waters by pursuing any serious discussion of adding millions in additional spending to the agenda.
Finally, loose talk about a new stadium could cause heartburn in Jefferson City, where some lawmakers are worried that the state’s annual $3 million contribution to maintenance at the Truman Sports Complex could be in peril. Those funds are essential and are a fraction of the money the teams generate for the state budget.
A downtown stadium proposal would be an enormous distraction from that debate.
General discussion of taxpayer support for sports facilities is probably unavoidable. It’s disappointing, though, that many of the people involved in the recent discussions about a downtown stadium refused to discuss the talks on the record or answer direct questions about the meeting.
Going forward, it will be important for everyone involved to be candid about these important issues.
For now, though, downtown baseball is and should be off the to-do list. The region must deal with more urgent priorities first.