Building a baseball park in downtown Kansas City is a wonderfully provocative idea.
But the project is not going to happen anytime soon given the facts that Kauffman Stadium was only recently remodeled and the Royals have a lease to play there 17 more years.
That’s the realistic and sobering assessment of the state of things when it comes to recent talk by some Royals fans and downtown’s champions about the potential to plop a ballpark somewhere inside the heart of the city.
It’s understandable that the topic leaped to life after the Royals came ever so close to winning the World Series against the San Francisco Giants.
The excitement surrounding the team drew sellout crowds dressed in blue to Kauffman Stadium, which opened in 1973 at the Truman Sports Complex in eastern Kansas City.
Now, imagine if all those people had been downtown.
They could have packed the streets, restaurants and bars before and after games, as happens in many other cities with downtown ballparks. A new stadium in Kansas City could help spur urban core redevelopment through new housing, offices and retail stores.
So with all that going for it, why is building such a ballpark likely not a realistic possibility for many years?
One big reason is that Jackson County taxpayers still are paying off hundreds of millions of dollars worth of bonds issued to renovate Kauffman Stadium. The three-eighths-cent sales tax approved for the bonds in 2006 lasts 25 years; it’s also helping to pay for Arrowhead Stadium upgrades.
The new Kauffman debuted in 2009, just five years ago, mostly to a big thumbs-up from fans. Concourses were widened, concession stands were added and more restrooms were built. The cost was around $250 million, with a paltry $25 million contribution from the Royals.
The Royals signed a lease to use Kauffman into the 2031 season.
Advocates of a downtown ballpark tried but failed a decade ago to get owner David Glass interested in abandoning the sports complex.
All of these facts have not deterred boosters of a new ballpark from drawing up plans and working behind the scenes to turn their vision into reality.
Discussions are being held about where a stadium might go, where vehicles could be parked without creating nightly traffic nightmares after games, and how transit lines and highway interchanges might be reconfigured.
Other concerns remain. Will the Royals’ ownership still resist a downtown stadium? Will a new owner come along who might actually push for a move downtown?
It could take years to develop a realistic plan for a new ballpark, including a campaign to put together the necessary private and public funds. And, of course, it would take more years to build it.
Yet, sitting around and waiting to get busy only a few years before the lease runs out at Kauffman Stadium isn’t a sensible option. Downtown’s backers have good reasons now to step up to the plate and explore all the options.