Kansas City Royals want to bulldoze community for new stadium

Kansas City Royals want to bulldoze community for new stadium

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If you think the Oakland A’s have a lot of nerve in asking for taxpayers to fund their new stadium on the Las Vegas strip to the tune of $380 million in public funding, wait until you hear what the Royals are doing in Kansas City.

Despite playing in Kauffman Stadium, one of the most pastoral and beloved stadiums in all of Major League Baseball, the Royals now insist they need a new place to play, that Kauffman Stadium is too old and run down to be renovated, and that they need the public to pay for it. Let’s just pause for a moment and remember that both Fenway Park and Wrigley Field have been successfully renovated, and they were built in 1912 and 1914, respectively. Kauffman Stadium saw its first game in 1973.

Then there’s the fact that Royals owner, John Sherman, is worth more than a billion dollars and is the founder and CEO of an energy company that merged with another in 2013 to become one of the biggest in North America. The stadium complex the Royals want to build will cost around $2 billion, but it includes things like a hotel, a conference center and various entertainment venues. So it’s not just a park Sherman wants KC residents to foot the bill for, it’s also businesses that will continue to pad his bank account far into the future. Sherman clearly figures that, hey, what red-blooded baseball-loving American wouldn’t want to pay for a billionaire’s further enrichment?

The Royals recently released renderings of what the new stadium would look like, which is usually worth a few days of good press in the form of oohs and aahs from the locals, and there’s no denying that the imaginary new stadium looks great on paper. If you’ve never been to KC, I can’t recommend enough that you remedy that immediately. Kansas City is one of the truly great American cities, rife with history and a cornucopia of entertainment, including, notably, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and the American Jazz Museum. And oddly enough, some of the best French food I’ve ever had was at an Irish pub in KC. Why? I have no idea.

But not everyone is fired up about the new stadium, especially the people whose businesses currently occupy the space where the Royals want to put the stadium. Because the Royals aren’t looking to build the new facility in an empty lot or a current parking lot, they want to put it right smack in the middle of KC’s Crossroads district, which is known for its arts and entertainment scene. The problem is that those blocks are already occupied by small businesses, who now find themselves and their storefronts squarely in front of the team’s figurative bulldozers. At least one of the organizations set to be plowed under is a church, which recently announced an addition to their Crossroads location, and which apparently didn’t know the full details of the Royals’ plans until the renderings came out (shout out to Craig Calcaterra for highlighting this in his excellent newsletter Thursday). The church released a statement on X:

Remember that line in Ghostbusters when Venkman says to the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, “Nobody steps on a church in my town!” That apparently is not the case in KC if you’re a pro sports team.

And the Church of the Resurrection isn’t the only business that stands in the way of the Royals’ grand plans. Business owners in the line of fire, like Matt Adkins, who owns a wine bar and boutique grocery located in the footprint of the new stadium complex, are urging Jackson County residents to vote against the ⅜ -cent sale tax that would fund the Royals’ and Chiefs’ stadium projects for the next 40 years. “We’re all kinds of dumbfounded right now, still, that they did choose this location,” Adkins told KC television station KCUR. “There’s literally something blocks away (in the East Village) where they’re saying ‘Please come over here instead.’”

Another small business owner told KCUR, “There’s a lot of anxiety right now,” among the Crossroads community, saying that the Royals need to convince Crossroads residents and business owners that they will preserve the “character of the community.” So far, business owners say there has been little communication from the Royals about how their shops would be affected. “A real sentiment of mistrust has developed,” one business owner told WDAF-TV. Personally, I always love to hear sports teams say “we want to be good neighbors,” before absolutely bulldozing those neighbors, both metaphorically and literally.

If business owners refuse to sell properties situated inside the new stadium complex, the city could invoke eminent domain to force businesses to sell, using the power of the government to seize private property and convert it to public use. And it wouldn’t be the first time a local government has forcefully taken private property to build a sports stadium in its place. In 2005, Arlington, Texas invoked eminent domain to condemn and destroy houses to make way for AT&T Stadium. New York City did the same in 2006 to build the Barclays Center. 

The “public purpose” argument the city could make in order to seize businesses in the Crossroads to absorb them into the borders of the new stadium was once much easier to make. These days, the assertion that sports stadiums benefit the local community in terms of job creation and revenue has been thoroughly debunked by economists. “Pro sports teams are bad business deals for cities, and yet, cities continue to fall for them,” Rick Paulus writes for The Atlantic. “Construction on the stadium might be performed by local workers, but it might not. And either way, it’s likely to be paid for off the books, without protections for workers. Even if the construction workers are local, their gigs last only a few years. Afterward, all that remains are the jobs inside the stadium—ticket sellers, vendors, janitorial staff—which are low-paid, seasonal, and few.”

The Berkeley Economic Review says that the belief that stadiums will generate more revenue than communities put into them is unfounded. “The average stadium generates $145 million per year, but none of this revenue goes back into the community. As such, the prevalent idea among team owners of ‘socializing the costs and privatizing the profits’ is harmful and unfair to people who are forced to pay for a stadium that will not help them.”

The idea of taxpayers funding stadiums that only serve to further line the pockets of billionaire sports owners is abhorrent enough. But using governmental powers like eminent domain to seize businesses people have spent years pouring their hearts and souls into to do it is downright unAmerican. Here’s to hoping the residents — and public officials — of Kansas City don’t fall for it.

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