Kansas City’s obsessive focus on downtown baseball is back.
A city-funded study will look at four potential sites for a new ballpark inside the downtown loop, The Star reported exclusively Wednesday. The work appears related to county-level downtown stadium discussions first reported in The Star in July.
Talk is cheap, of course. When it comes to a downtown stadium, talk is practically free — similar studies were conducted in the 1990s and early 2000s. All came to naught.
The latest ballpark chatter should suffer a similar fate.
We’re not against discussing downtown development and how a stadium might fit in a broader vision. Kansas City and Jackson County do need to think about the cost of the Truman Sports Complex beyond 2030, when current leases for the Royals and Chiefs expire.
We’re not against a downtown stadium, either. If David Glass or any Royals owner wants to build a new, privately-owned ballpark downtown, we’d be happy to see it.
But a downtown baseball stadium paid for with taxpayer dollars should be at the bottom of the region’s to-do list.
▪ It would be massively expensive. By some estimates, it could cost $500 million to build a downtown stadium — perhaps more, given the difficulty of building downtown, inflation, and the demands on the construction industry.
The cost would go up if the public had to borrow for the project. And remember: Whatever public support the Royals get, the Chiefs will want, too. Then the price tag doubles.
Taxpayers cannot be asked for that kind of cash.
▪ There are other priorities. In about a month, Kansas City voters will decide if they want a new $1 billion airport terminal. Jackson County is pondering a new jail, which could cost $200 million or more.
Kansas Citians are groaning under the weight of higher sewer and water bills needed for drainage improvements, which could cost $5 billion. They just passed an $800 million bond package for streets and sidewalks.
All of those projects are more important — and more worth of public subsidy — than a new stadium.
▪ The Royals say they aren’t interested. The team drew a little more than 2.2 million fans this season, a dip from the two previous years but still higher than 2014, when the club reached the final game of the World Series.
The team knows this truth: Attendance hinges more on performance than stadium location. If there is money to spend, the club should invest in players, not concession stands.
▪ Downtown is doing just fine, thank you. Rents are high, reflecting strong demand. And there are no guarantees that a new stadium would provide much of a development boost anyway.
An stadium on the East Side is more defensible because it would inject traffic into a distressed area. But that isn’t what most people think of when they think of downtown baseball.
The fact that Kansas City has pursued these discussions largely in secret is cause for concern, as if the lessons from the airport debacle remain unlearned. This idea shouldn’t be vetted behind closed doors.
Downtown stadium discussions will continue because they’re cheap. Actually building a ballpark would be expensive, and should not find a place on any realistic regional agenda.