Government & Politics

Are Royals headed to downtown KC? City starts talks, studies four sites

The city of Kansas City is funding a study of at least four potential sites for a downtown baseball stadium for the Kansas City Royals, according to documents obtained by The Star.

A series of emails shows that Kansas City Manager Troy Schulte was involved in funding studies of four sites within the downtown loop that might be suitable for a baseball stadium.

Two of those sites, according to slides prepared by the architecture firm HOK, are immediately adjacent to the Sprint Center, one to the north and one to the east.

Another site is East Village, several blocks of mostly undeveloped land and surface parking lots east of City Hall. A fourth site would involve several blocks of mostly surface parking lots beginning at the northwest corner of 8th and Main streets.

Others involved in the planning include Jon Copaken, principal with real estate development firm Copaken-Brooks, the Downtown Council of Kansas City, JE Dunn, The Cordish Co. and Tower Properties.

Schulte said the studies started after the Downtown Council approached City Hall about the feasibility of downtown baseball. Schulte added that he agreed to help fund a study to consider whether the four sites would work so that the city could plan ahead if the idea gained momentum.

“At this point it’s nothing more than hopes and dreams and discussions,” Schulte said.

A May 12 email from Copaken obtained by The Star suggested that conversations with the Royals and Jackson County have started.

“[T]he studies are underway, invoices are out, conversations from the County and the team are actually heading in the right way and we are sufficiently in the loop to know that real progress is being achieved,” Copaken wrote.

Kevin Uhlich, senior vice president of business operations for the Royals, said he had been contacted about downtown baseball stadium proposals earlier this year.

“They did touch base with us and said they are looking, planning and trying to figure out what to do with certain pieces of land downtown,” Uhlich told The Star.

Uhlich said the Royals are in a lease with Jackson County, which owns the Truman Sports Complex, that runs through 2030.

“We’re perfectly content where we are, we think it works well,” Uhlich said. “Thirteen years from now, who knows what the situation is going to be? I can’t hold anybody back from doing what they’re doing on their side. We would listen.”

Jackson County executive Frank White said the county would be willing to listen to ideas.

“The County is not advocating for, nor funding any efforts for any stadium relocation,” White said in a statement. “Of course, we have been and will continue to be, open to listening and discussing with all parties involved opportunities to grow and build these great community assets.”

Downtown boosters have long coveted the idea of bringing the Royals downtown. Those advocates hope that downtown baseball, and the crowds it would attract to the urban core for at least 81 days a year for Royals home games, would accelerate the area’s progress and allure in the region.

“The Downtown Council engages in a wide range of studies exploring the possibilities for future developments and investments to enhance Downtown, said Downtown Council president and chief executive Bill Dietrich in an email to The Star. “We are always looking to ensure that we have current and relevant information regarding any future conversations involving major commercial, entertainment and cultural amenities.”

Urbanists often point to Denver as evidence for how downtown baseball stadiums can catalyze growth in urban settings. It was in Denver where Coors Field opened in 1995 for the Colorado Rockies and helped transform what had previously been a moribund area into what’s since been the trendy LoDo district.

City Hall and the Royals last discussed the possibility of relocating downtown more than 12 years ago, just as downtown was beginning its resurgence with planning for the Sprint Center and what would become the Power & Light District.

Those talks with the Royals broke down in 2005 when the team said it would focus instead on improving the quality of the on-field product. The following year, Jackson County voters approved a sales tax to fund renovations of both Kauffman Stadium and Arrowhead Stadium at the Truman Sports Complex.

Potential obstacles for downtown baseball include parking and how to pay for it. Schulte said initial estimates for a stadium were north of $450 million. Those details, he added, have not been studied in depth.

“Don’t get too excited yet because we do a lot of long-term planning,” he said. “That doesn’t even mean anything is being contemplated.”