The possibility of pursuing a downtown stadium
Talk to people who know John Sherman and three points come up over and over again: He’s a meticulous businessman, he is deeply devoted to Kansas City and, even given his stature in the community, he’s private about his endeavors.
“I get involved in a lot of different charitable organizations and they (Sherman and his wife, Marny) have always been incredibly philanthropic,” said Perry Brandt, a top Kansas City business lawyer who was once neighbors with Sherman and whose children went to school together. “They’re always very quiet about it. Sometimes people who are philanthropic wear it on their sleeve and they’re always very quiet about it.”
And so it was both surprising and not at the same time when word emerged publicly last week that a group led by Sherman was in talks to buy the Kansas City Royals.
The deal isn’t done — it can’t be until Major League Baseball owners meet later this year to sign off on a change in ownership — but Sherman and current Royals owner David Glass have agreed to the framework of a deal.
But speculation is already afoot about what kind of owner Sherman might be. Another thing to know about Sherman: He cares about downtown Kansas City.
Could a new owner usher in the possibility of the Royals pursuing a downtown stadium? People close to Sherman say he hasn’t discussed the idea specifically, but clues exist to suggest he might be warm to the idea.
Sherman was part of an investor group that was looking at building a downtown stadium in St. Louis to support an expansion Major League Soccer team, according to a 2016 article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The idea cooled when then-Gov. Eric Greitens said he would oppose public funding for the project.
Sherman also sits on and was a chairman of the board of the Civic Council of Greater Kansas City, a consortium of business people who look to guide the city’s future. The Civic Council is helping fund a new study by the Downtown Council of Kansas City’s urban core, an update to earlier studies referred to as the Sasaki Plan, which in 2001 and again in 2005 served as something of a blueprint for the rejuvenation of the city’s core in the years that would follow.
While this latest study is expected to provide a roadmap for infrastructure, transportation, affordable housing and development in downtown for the next decade, the possibility of baseball in the urban core is part of the planning.
Several sites have been considered for a downtown baseball stadium.
Multiple sources tell The Star that two sites could have an edge currently should the Royals look downtown.
One is at and around where the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority currently occupies 24 acres for its headquarters and bus station at 18th Street and Forest Avenue, just east of U.S. Highway 71.
“I’ve heard those rumors and I would be the first one to jump up and down and say absolutely,” said Robbie Makinen, chief executive of the KCATA.
The KCATA site’s allure is that a baseball stadium would provide a linkage between the Crossroads Arts District and the 18th & Vine entertainment district, an area where a current array of warehouse and industrial buildings serves as an unappealing corridor between the two attractions.
The KCATA site is complicated somewhat by the proposed development of what’s called a Keystone Innovation District at 18th Street and Troost Avenue that would occupy a portion of KCATA-controlled property, but the project has not yet broken ground.
Another leading site is East Village, several blocks of mostly undeveloped space east of City Hall and construction company JE Dunn’s headquarters.
East Village about 13 years ago was the site of a planned office development that would host about 900 federal government employees, many of them relocating from the former Bannister Federal Complex in south Kansas City, but the plan faded into the ether as federal budget cuts in 2009 made the idea impractical.
City Hall about two years ago helped fund an initial feasibility study that looked at several proposed sites in downtown, but city manager Troy Schulte says they’re letting private groups take the lead in planning for a downtown stadium.
“They continue to look at sites that are large enough, obviously the East Village site,” he said. “I’ve heard sites around 18th and Vine, but nothing specific.”
Another site identified in a 2017 study obtained by The Star at the time was directly east of the Sprint Center. That site is said to be complicated by its size and the presence of the Jackson County jail, a troubled facility for which county officials are trying to identify a replacement but no firm proposal has officially been disclosed.
Other sites under consideration at various points was one north of the Sprint Center and another at the North Loop.
Downtown boosters see a stadium as a catalyst for additional development and continued allure in the urban core, which was a desolate locale 15 years ago when city leaders had hoped to persuade Glass to help jumpstart the reversal of downtown’s fortunes.
Glass at the time wasn’t keen on it and instead Jackson County voters approved in 2006 a three-eighth cent sales tax increase to fund renovations of Kauffman Stadium and Arrowhead Stadium at the Truman Sports Complex. A second ballot question to build a rolling roof between the two stadiums was rejected by voters as being too costly.
The rolling roof, incidentally, was an idea first broached when the Truman Sports Complex was conceived and Royals Stadium opened in 1973.
The development of Royals Stadium, later renamed Kauffman Stadium after Royals founding owner Ewing Kauffman, is described at length in a chapter of Pultizer Prize-winning architecture writer Paul Goldberger’s book “Ballpark: Baseball in the American City” called “Era of Concrete Doughnuts.”
Goldberger describes how urban stadiums in the early 20th Century gave way to a preference for suburban stadiums that at times housed both football and baseball teams, like Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia and Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh. Some of these stadiums were not architectural marvels, although Goldberger singles out Kauffman Stadium as one “whose architectural qualities are compromised by the unbroken vistas of parked cars around it.”
Beginning in 1992 with the opening of Camden Yards for the Baltimore Orioles, the trend circled back to stadiums of improved architectural value in downtown sites. Goldberger’s book says that Coors Field in Denver led to property values in the LoDo district surrounding the stadium for the Colorado Rockies growing three times faster than the average in the city.
In Cleveland, where Jacobs Field (now Progressive Field) opened in 1994 in downtown, fans embraced the new location, according to Goldberger, where the Indians set a then-record for 455 consecutive sellouts. Sherman is currently a minority owner of the Indians, a stake that he would divest himself of should he buy the Royals.
Advocates for downtown hope to replicate those types of successes, even though the track record for downtown stadiums improving local economies is mixed, when the cost to the public is factored in.
Cost could be a barrier for plans to move the Royals downtown. Baseball’s newest stadium, SunTrust Park in suburban Atlanta, cost $672 million and an adjacent entertainment district cost another $450 million, pushing the entire price tag of the development north of $1 billion.
It’s hard to say what sensitivity taxpayers in Kansas City or in the broader region would have if Royals ownership should seek public resources to help with the overall cost of a new stadium as its lease approaches expiration in 2031.
There’s also the question of whether the Kansas City Chiefs would want renovations or a new facility of their own when their lease at Arrowhead Stadium expires at the same time. Allotting land for parking downtown could be another obstacle, especially compared to the sea of available parking at Truman Sports Complex that provides an opportunity to gather up $15 per car paying at the gate.
But those are the questions that Sherman is likely to pay close and meticulous attention to, much as he did when he ran propane and midstream enterprise Inergy LP in Kansas City.
“John’s very thoughtful,” said Civic Council chief executive Marc Hill, “and incredibly civically minded.”
— The Star’s Allison Kite contributed to this story