Civic leaders in down-on-its-luck St. Louis are desperately trying to keep the Rams football team by building a new $1 billion stadium near downtown.
Meanwhile, Kansas City is getting along just fine with its stadium complex far away from downtown. The resurgent Royals could set a season attendance record at Kauffman Stadium, while ardent Chiefs’ fans will fill Arrowhead this fall.
And yet, one of the surest ways to start a social media fight in Kansas City these days is to defend — as I often do — the location and cost-effectiveness of both teams playing many more years in the renovated Truman Sports Complex.
Some people who hope eventually to see at least a new baseball park in or near downtown Kansas City argue that it’s imperative to put such an important sports asset in the urban core.
That’s a bunch of hogwash.
Fine, as a big believer in downtown’s importance, I’ll be kinder and more specific: A review of the 50 largest cities in the United States — including Kansas City at No. 37 — is eye-opening on this topic.
▪ A great majority of the fastest growing cities do not have downtown-area baseball parks or football stadiums.
In fact, many don’t even have either a pro football or major league baseball team.
Topping that list is Austin, which added population at the highest rate of the 50 largest U.S. cities (up 12.5 percent), according to Census Bureau estimates from 2010 through July 1, 2014.
Others on this list are Fort Worth; Raleigh; San Antonio; Oklahoma City; Colorado Springs; San Jose; Portland, Ore.; Columbus; Mesa City, Ariz.; Omaha; Las Vegas; El Paso; Fresno; Sacramento; Virginia Beach, Va.; Louisville; and Long Beach, Calif.
All 18 cities added population more quickly than Kansas City did (up 2.4 percent). That fact dampens the often-hyped claim that it’s essential for Kansas City to spend what it must to be a “major league” city.
Completing the picture, it’s also true that a few of the 50 largest cities adding people more slowly than Kansas City do lack pro baseball and football teams. Among them are Tulsa, Albuquerque, Wichita, Tucson and Memphis.
▪ Some of the slowest growing large cities do have downtown-area facilities, including four of the worst laggards on the top 50 list.
They are Cincinnati (up only 0.4 percent in population from 2010 to 2014); Baltimore (up 0.3 percent); Cleveland (down 1.8 percent), and Detroit (down 4.7 percent).
St. Louis — which has plummeted to the nation’s 60th biggest city — was down 0.6 percent in population. And that’s despite having Busch Stadium and the Edward Jones Dome in the downtown area.
Finally, as Kansas City’s pro-downtown ballpark crowd correctly points out, some quickly growing U.S. cities do have downtown area major league sports facilities.
New Orleans, Denver and Charlotte are on that list, as are Houston, Minneapolis, Nashville, Phoenix and San Diego.
But overall, easily more than half of the nation’s 50 largest cities don’t have downtown stadiums — including Kansas City.
The leases for the Truman Sports Complex extend into 2031, but some downtown boosters hope to start planning for a new baseball park in the next decade.
Along the way, the “benefits” of that ballpark will be trumpeted, and rather forcefully.
We will hear a lot about keeping bars and restaurants hopping, enticing people to hang around downtown after hours, and generally injecting more life into a crucial part of the entire metropolitan area.
If an election rolls around, Kansas Citians will have to evaluate those points to see whether they make a convincing case for a new stadium.
Just don’t accept the argument that building a downtown ballpark will be a great way to attract more residents to the Kansas City core.