Saturday, February 12, 2005

The Star revels in dead stadium idea

The Kansas City Royals and Kansas City Chiefs both play at stadiums that were built and funded by Jackson County, Missouri. The teams lease the stadiums from the county, and in return, the county must provide upkeep and maintenance to the stadiums. If the agreed maintenance is not maintained, the teams may default on the lease, and potentially leave Kansas City.

Those responsible for drawing up the lease did a poor job of defining what must be done to maintain the stadiums. The lease states that the stadiums must be “state of the art,” a terribly subjective term. The stadiums are over 30 years old, and are beginning to show their age. They both require updated plumbing, electrical, and other infrastructure needs.

Last fall, voters in the Kansas City area voted down a proposed tax that would be used to fund arts programs and to renovate both stadiums at the Truman Sports Complex. The tax would not only repair infrastructure items, but would also build many amenities at the stadiums.

Since the tax failed, officials are now looking at ways to raise funds to update the stadiums in order to meet the lease requirements. One option is a sales tax that provides just enough money for these repairs. If the repairs are not completed by December 31, 2006, the county will have defaulted on the lease.

Leaders in downtown Kansas City started looking at options for building a new baseball stadium downtown. After the recent passage of a new, state of the art arena in downtown, other development is beginning to take off in the area. This council asked to form a task force to explore the idea of building a new stadium downtown instead of spending money on the older Kauffman Stadium. All parties, including the Royals, agreed to allow this task force 100 days to explore the idea and create a proposal. Most agreed that if presented with a new stadium, the Royals would be on board. The task force began is work just a few weeks ago.

Surprisingly, the Royals held a press conference yesterday announcing that they had no desire to move to a new stadium. Their preference is to stay at Kauffman Stadium, and this decision was reached after hearing from their fans. This announcement effective killed the work of the task force.

I don’t understand this announcement. The task force was merely exploring the idea and drawing up a proposal presenting various options for the stadiums. Why would the Royals suddenly pull the plug on this work? Even if they completed the work, all involved could still decide to stay at Kauffman, but at least everybody involved would have all the information in front of them. The Royals have made this decision based on their season ticket holders, who unfortunately only number about 8,000. Did all 8,000 of these people call the Royals to say they didn’t want a new stadium? What about the other 1,000,000 folks who live and work in the Kansas City area? What is their desire? By voting down the Bi-State tax last fall, I believe the message was sent that the people would like to hear about other options besides renovation of the existing stadiums.

But that’s not what disturbs me. What disturbs me more is the coverage of the Kansas City Star. The Star has been against a new stadium since the idea was first hatched. It is perfectly acceptable for their editorial staff to make a stand, but even their stories about the stadiums had a decidedly anti-downtown stadium slant.

Here’s how they covered yesterday’s press conference in this morning’s paper:

ROYALS SAY NO TO DOWNTOWN – “The fans wanted us to stay” – Dan Glass, Royals president
--this was the large headline on the front page of the paper.

Supporters are disappointed – Downtown Stadium Strikes Out
--this was the headline on the front page of the Business Section of the paper

Royals happy at Kauffman – Owner says fans don’t want downtown stadium
--this was the headline on the front page of the Sports Daily section of the paper

Farewell to idea of downtown ballpark
--this was the headline of the lead editorial story in the Opinion section

The “dead downtown stadium” story ran in every section of the paper except the Classifieds. It was on the front page of every section except the “Metropolitan” section, which is where the Opinion section is located.

In the editorial, the Star says:
“The costly idea of building a downtown baseball stadium was laid to rest Friday. It was the right decision.”

With the task force’s work cut off before completion, how can anybody know what the “right decision” is? Are all the facts known?

I can’t understand why the Star has been so against a downtown ballpark. The Star itself recently invested millions in downtown development building a state of the art printing facility that is located right across the highway from where the new Sprint Center Arena will be.

Personally, I’m not strongly for or against a downtown ballpark. But I do think the idea merits investigation and study. Kansas City right now is experiencing a surge of development downtown including the arena, H&R Block world headquarters, a large entertainment district, and a new performing arts center. Using this momentum to build a new baseball stadium seems viable and at the very least it merits investigation. If the task force had determined that a new stadium was not fiscally feasible then let’s move on with renovations. But we should have all the facts in front of us before making the decision, and the decision should be influence by the local print media.

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