Government & Politics

KCK may spend $1M on stadium as part of lease with new Kansas City T-Bones owner

The Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City, Kansas is poised to spend $1 million as it works to help transition the beleaguered Kansas City T-Bones to a new owner.

The UG Board of Commissioners on Thursday will consider a lease with Max Fun Entertainment LLC, a newly-created entity that plans to “buy and manage a new baseball team.” It’s the first official indication that the current owners of the T-Bones are nearing completion of a sale.

If approved, the new agreement would mark the county’s latest subsidy aimed at keeping baseball in KCK. The UG has already spent some $8 million on stadium improvements and approved financial bailouts of the team on multiple occasions.

The T-Bones, put on the market last year, have been under financial pressure for years. The UG, which owns their Village West stadium, officially evicted the team on Monday after it racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in past due rent and utility bills.

Kansas Secretary of State records show Max Fun is registered to Mark Brandmeyer, a partner at Built Interior Construction in Kansas City and a principal at Brandmeyer Enterprises, a health care investment firm. He said he could not comment on the pending sale until it has received approval from the T-Bones’ league, the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball.

Commissioners will consider a five-year lease with three five-year renewal options. As part of the agreement, the government and the company will split the cost of utilities for the first year. Afterwards, Max Fun is responsible for those bills. The new owner would not be obligated to write a monthly rent check, but is responsible for paying property taxes on an adjacent parking lot and covering all operating costs of the stadium.

Max Fun has committed to spend at least $500,000 on capital improvements to the stadium by May of 2022. The company is expected to develop year-round public event spaces that include sand volleyball and pickleball facilities as well as a sports bar or outdoor music stage.

The UG will also commit to spending at least $1 million from Kansas sales tax revenue, or STAR, bonds within two years for stadium improvements.

For use of the stadium, the UG will receive 5% of all ticket revenues for non-baseball events. It will also continue to collect a 50-cent tax on all tickets to go toward county parks.

The stadium will be made available for high school sports and parks and recreation events.

The county is requiring a $100,000 letter of credit to cover utility payments for the first year and a surety bond to cover the capital improvements.

The 2003-era stadium was originally privately owned, but team owners and local government officials said private ownership was not sustainable after attendance began lagging in 2010.

The UG agreed to buy the 6,200-seat stadium in 2013 from Ehlert Development Corp., an affiliate of team owner John Ehlert, for $5.5 million. The UG at the time said it would spend another $2.5 million for upgrades. Both the purchase and the improvements were funded with STAR bonds generated by retail sales in the Village West development.

In 2016, the UG sent a letter demanding that the team catch up on its taxes and fees. The team replied that it had not generated enough revenue to cover the obligations, and the UG paid $125,000 in property taxes on the parking lot and maintenance fees for common areas.

In another bailout effort, the Unified Board of Commissioners in 2017 replaced the 20-year lease agreement with the team with a new deal that had taxpayers help pay for the ballpark’s property taxes and utilities.

At the time, commissioners who voted in favor of the new deal said it was better to have the T-Bones playing in the taxpayer-owned stadium rather than risk having it sit empty.

The UG sent a letter of default to the T-Bones in 2018, when the team was put up for sale. In August of this year, the UG issued an eviction notice after the T-Bones accumulated more than $760,000 in back rent and utility payments. As of Aug. 16, owners had made only three of 48 monthly payments of $1,678, putting the team in default for 45 months.

In September, the UG issued a one-month reprieve on eviction after the team made a $50,000 payment. But that extension expired at midnight Monday.

UG Spokesman Mike Taylor on Monday said the government still expects to get paid.

“They well knew that this was going to happen. Short of them coming in and paying the debt that they owe, this was going to happen,” he said. “They knew that so they should not have been surprised one bit.”

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Kevin Hardy covers business for The Kansas City Star. He previously covered business and politics at The Des Moines Register. He also has worked at newspapers in Kansas and Tennessee. He is a graduate of the University of Kansas