Wyandotte County evicts Kansas City T-Bones for defaulting on rent, utility payments

The Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City Kansas will evict the Kansas City T-Bones from the county-owned stadium in Village West after the independent league team went months without paying rent and utilities.

In a news release on Monday, UG officials said the team owed more than $687,000 in current and past due utility payments. Additionally, the team owed $75,545.10 in rent payments. As of Aug. 16, T-Bones owners had made only three out of 48 monthly payments of $1,678, putting the team in default for 45 months.

The Aug. 16 eviction notice requires the team to move all its property and fixtures from the stadium by 5 p.m. on Sept. 13. The team’s current season ends Sept. 2.

“We have been very patient and worked with the T-Bones for several years,” UG spokesman Mike Taylor said Monday evening. “They’ve missed 45 out of 48 payments and we finally came to the decision that we needed to evict them from the stadium even though they’ve been a great partner and great community attraction for all these years.”

But the news seemed to come as a surprise to team leaders.

“We are shocked by what appears to be this capricious action,” T-Bones president Adam Ehlert said in a statement Monday, noting the team had been in close communication with the UG.

The team has been for sale for months and Ehlert said the UG was aware that a sale would not be completed or announced during the current baseball season. He noted that the team continues playing this week amid a franchise-record, 12-game winning streak.

“We remain optimistic that a solution will be reached in the short-term, to retain baseball in a great market, for the long-term,” Ehlert said. “The millions of fans who have enjoyed our product over nearly two decades should share our optimism for the future as we work to close the sale to the next operator of this franchise.”

The T-Bones got the boot only after several government efforts to bail out the team.

In 2003, the Duluth-Superior Dukes moved from Minnesota and became the T-Bones, setting up shop in a new privately-owned stadium named after CommunityAmerica Credit Union.

But after attendance began lagging in 2010, team owners and local government officials said private ownership was not sustainable.

The UG bought the 6,200-seat stadium in 2013 from Ehlert Development Corp., an affiliate of T-Bones owner John Ehlert, for $5.5 million. The UG at the time said it would spend another $2.5 million upgrading the stadium. Both the purchase and upgrades were funded by sales tax revenue (STAR) bonds generated by retail sales in the Village West development.

But the team still struggled financially.

Unlike minor league clubs, the T-Bones play in an independent league and have no affiliation with Major League Baseball teams.

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 its obligations, and the UG ended up paying $125,000 for property taxes on the parking lot and common area maintenance fees.

As another bailout effort, the Unified Board of Commissioners in 2017 unanimously approved a measure to replace its 20-year lease agreement with the baseball team with a new deal that had taxpayers pitch in on 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.

“People have spent a lot more on stadiums and teams than we have,” then UG Mayor Mark Holland said. “I think of the Chiefs and the Royals. Jackson County gave almost $600 million to the Chiefs and Royals.”

Then, the UG sent a letter of default to the T-Bones in 2018. The team was put up for sale the same year, though no buyer or deal has been announced.

“It’s been a very good, but a very long, couple of decades, so we’re considering other things,” Adam Ehlert told KCUR last month.

In a news release, UG officials said the eviction does not erase the team’s outstanding debt.

“The Unified Government reserves the right and intends to seek all remedies available to collect on the financial obligations,” the news release said.

It’s unclear what the future holds for the public stadium, which sits within the bustling Village West retail development in western Wyandotte County near the Kansas Speedway and Children’s Mercy Park. In the news release, UG officials said the park could be marketed to another team or promoted for other athletic events, concerts and community events.

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