Spellbound

Valley Voice

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Kansas is a conservative state but tends to avoid the far side. In the northeast is Kansas City, or three Kansas Cities ‒ the Kansas City of Wyandotte County, Johnson County, and Missouri’s Kansas City. They are comingled in a mash of urban reach and suburban sprawl over county and state borders, a tangle of half a dozen interstate highways and the conjunction of the Kansas and Missouri Rivers.

Kansas City, Kan., is a fulcrum of commercial buzz and industrial animation, home to Sporting KC soccer, a NASCAR track, outlet shopping. Tucked in below is Johnson County, Wyandotte’s sprawling southern neighbor, home to office parks, shopping malls, tech centers and mansions of the five-acre lawn.

Across the river in Missouri is big brother Kansas City, home to the Plaza Shopping District, Crown Center, a prominent airport north, the downtown Power and Light District and out east, the Royals baseball and Chiefs football stadiums.

To Kansans from away, this five-county bi-state metroplex is two million people and one large place: Kansas City of the Royals and Chiefs.

But in Missouri, trouble. The Royals are crowded and unhappy at Kauffman Stadium; the Chiefs are restless at Arrowhead, fussing for upgrades at the coliseum. Both teams seem willing to move.

Last April, voters in Jackson County, Mo., turned down a sales tax extension to help pay for a new downtown Royals baseball stadium and upgrades at Arrowhead. Voters said the proposal ‒ $2billion, $4 billion or more ‒ was vague and unfixed, the details slippery.

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In Topeka last month, Kansas legislators embraced vague and slippery. The governor signed on, approving unknown billions in sales tax bonds on offer to help build a professional football or baseball stadium, or both, in metro-Kansas. The legislation expands the Kansas Sales Tax and Revenue (STAR) Bond program, a way to dedicate local sales taxes for bond repayment. Liquor taxes and sports gambling revenues could be included. The Kansas law may finance up to 70 percent of a stadium project at a minimum $1 billion.

Legislators approved, 84-38 in the House and 27-8 in the Senate. There were no hearings. This was necessary, they said, to keep the teams in the Kansas City area, leaving a strong implication that two Kansas stadiums are possible, at estimates of at least $2 billion each.

Producing 70 percent of a $2 billion (or $4 billion) project would require a lot of sports gambling, hot dog, T-shirt and beer sales.

Extensive studies have shown that stadium projects rarely return the public funds put into them. Decades of research says stadiums aren’t a big force for economic growth. The no-vote in Missouri was a message that locals prefer their money spent to improve the lives of residents, not the fortunes of sports team owners.

But Topeka was spellbound by the glittering allure of a professional sports franchise on the Kansas side. Chiefs and Royals lobbyists swarmed the Statehouse, pitching the high promise of rubbing elbows with the rich, the sublime status of professional sports, of becoming home to stars.

Royals executives arranged a steakhouse dinner in Lawrence for Democrats on June 17, the evening before the vote. The day of the vote the Chiefs sponsored a lunchtime block party just steps from the Capitol.

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Missouri legislators are at odds with themselves, uneasy with the prospect of

losing one or both of their teams but realistic about the expense of keeping them. Lines of negotiation remain open.

“We want to keep the Chiefs and Royals in the state of Missouri,” said Sen. Denny Hoskins, a Warrensburg Republican, “but we can’t saddle taxpayers with billions of dollars in debt to help finance stadiums.”

Hoskins, a candidate for Missouri secretary of state, said the Kansas plan was a figment of lofty revenue estimates; stadiums there would not make enough to retire the bonds without additional help from Kansas taxpayers.

To brush off worry-warts, the Kansas plan is to remain evasive, its details secret. Any agreement on stadiums will be confidential by law until after it is signed.

See no trouble, have no trouble.

1 COMMENT

  1. I for one, as an ex-KCMO dweller, would love to see both teams go to Kansas. Most of the regional revenues and profits the owners capture come from there. They have been a financial burden on KCMO for far too long, and the owners of both teams are far from generous. They covet the huge welfare flow from the taxpayers as if the have their pockets turned inside out. Their price if entry has become unaffordable to nearly all the residents within a five mile radius. Pack your houses, Royals and Chiefs! See ya on the other side!

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