Kansas City Royals fans around the metropolitan area — heck, around the country — are hoping in the next few days to celebrate the team’s second straight World Series appearance.
This is also the perfect time to recall and praise an extremely important moment in this region’s history: Jackson County voters saved major league baseball here on the night of April 4, 2006.
Civic leaders that night were justifiably pumped up that voters had narrowly approved imposing a three-eighths-cent, 25-year sales tax in the county.
The tax made it possible to spend $425 million of public revenues to renovate Kauffman Stadium and Arrowhead Stadium, adding more attractions, restrooms and wider concourses at the Truman Sports Complex.
Notably, the vote ended the possibility that miserly Royals owner David Glass would move the club. New leases with the county bound the Royals (and the Chiefs) to Kansas City into 2031. Glass at the time had angered many people by saying he would pump only $25 million of his family’s funds into stadium upgrades.
That 2006 election came just two years after Johnson County voters rejected a bistate tax that would have helped make the same, needed improvements to Kauffman Stadium and the sports complex.
So, yes, Johnson Countians, go ahead and splurge on buying everything blue you can find in the 2015 postseason run. Just tip your caps to the people across the state line, the Jackson Countians who made it all possible.
This week I dug out a notebook from April 2006, and it’s easy to see how excited — even how prescient — civic leaders were at the time.
Mayor Kay Barnes and Jackson County Executive Katheryn Shields teamed up to sell the tax that year. Keeping the Royals and Chiefs was essential to the region’s national image, both told me as votes were being counted that night.
“We all like to be part of something bigger than ourselves,” Shields said. “We’d be less of a community if (the tax) failed.”
Shields also pounded home the argument that’s always made sense when it comes to using taxpayer funds to support private enterprises such as the Royals and Chiefs: Voters in the 1960s decided to build public stadiums for the clubs and “those are the things you have to maintain,” she said.
Barnes said that night of the tax, “To me, this was a no-brainer.” Passing it would be “huge” for Kansas City, because renovating the complex “is a very important part of our future.”
Shortly after 10 p.m., when victory was assured, Glass told the cheering crowd, “It’s a great day for Jackson County. It’s a great day for Kansas City.”
Unfortunately, the Royals in that 2006 season would go on to lose exactly 100 games — the fourth time in five years the club would lose that often or even more.
That sad-sack record is one more reason today to marvel at the vision, enthusiasm or just plain common sense that Jackson County voters showed more than nine years ago.
Here they were, stuck with an unloved owner in Glass and a horrible performing Royals team on the field.
But civic pride, love of baseball and — let’s be honest — a great desire to keep the far-more-popular Chiefs playing in Kansas City all helped produce a positive result at the ballot box.
Since then, tens of thousands of new residents have moved into the metropolitan area. Many don’t know how close this community came to losing the Royals. Plenty of newly minted Royals fans also don’t realize how historically bad the club was for many years.
Yet a crucial decision made on April 4, 2006, with the support of 49,366 voters has helped make possible all the current frenzy over the Royals.