Clay County officials go on offensive to woo Royals stadium project

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Posted at 2:11 PM, May 19, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-19 23:09:46-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Officials from North Kansas City and Clay County went on the offensive Friday as the future location of the Kansas City Royals’ ballpark remains up in the air.

Royals Chairman and CEO John Sherman announced via an open letter posted on social media in November that the baseball club would not renew its lease at the Harry S. Truman Sports Complex and intended to pursue a new $2-billion stadium and entertainment district.

Most of the proposed sites are located in Kansas City, Missouri, including a location in the East Village neighborhood downtown, but North Kansas City is one of five possible locations and the only known to be outside KCMO city limits.

Clay County Presiding Commissioner Jerry Nolte, Clay County Western Commissioner Scott Wagner and North Kansas City Mayor Bryant DeLong signed an “Open Letter to the Kansas City Area Community,” which was published Friday that outlines ongoing conversations with the Royals.

“This plan would include commercial, residential development and entertainment experiences adjacent to the stadium, complementing the amazing businesses and entertainment options that already exist in downtown North Kansas City today,” the letter said. “We look forward to continuing our work with the Royals and have additional meetings scheduled with them.”

DeLong, Nolte and Wagner said the letter was published in the interest of transparency and that, while no agreement is imminent, “plans and communications have been positive” and that Clay County leaders “are striving to lay the groundwork necessary for a plan that is positive for the city, the county and our entire community.”

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas fired back on social media Friday, decrying the potential impact on taxpayers of a bidding war for the new stadium.

Kansas City and Jackson County have been strong partners for the Kansas City Royals since the team’s inception. Taxpayers from both jurisdictions have invested mightily in the success of the Kansas City Royals franchise.

Having already signed onto a border war truce with our Kansas neighbors, Kansas City will not now engage in an intrastate regional race to the bottom that ultimately does little more than fleecing our taxpayers.

We encourage the Royals to timely resolve the many questions surrounding their future home, so that all involved can speak openly and transparently on any future public involvement.
Quinton Lucas, mayor of Kansas City, Missouri

Jackson County Executive Frank White Jr. echoed Lucas' statement Friday afternoon with his own statement.

White, a Lincoln High School graduate from KCMO, won a World Series and collected five All-Star appearances and eight Gold Gloves along with 2,006 career hits in an 18-year career with the Royals from 1973 to 1990.

Jackson County taxpayers have long supported our teams, ensuring first-class stadiums since 1973. Jackson County's unwavering commitment is demonstrated this year with over $50 million allocated toward the Truman Sports Complex. Importantly, the Royals are contractually obligated to play at Kauffman Stadium, located in Jackson County, until at least 2031.

I echo the stance by Mayor Lucas: I refuse to participate in an intercounty bidding war that ultimately harms our residents. I will endorse a new downtown stadium only when I am convinced it serves the best interests of Jackson County residents.

My commitment to collaborating with Mayor Lucas, the City Council and County Legislature to determine justified public support remains firm. However, I won't entertain this while the Royals attempt to pit local communities against each other. Our taxpayers deserve respect, transparency and loyalty.
Frank White Jr., Jackson County executive

The letter from Clay County officials likened the plan being formulated to Wrigley Field and the Wrigleyville neighborhood that surrounds the Chicago Cubs’ home ballpark.

“Our objective is to create a place where fans and visitors to the Northland can enjoy best-in-class sports experiences and ‘live-work-play’ in a thriving and safe urban ballpark neighborhood,” the letter said.

The Royals confirmed that they are seriously considering the proposed North Kansas City site.

"The leaders of North Kansas City and Clay County have presented a progressive and creative vision for a new ballpark and ballpark district in North Kansas City, aligning with the Royals’ vision as we strive to make the best decision for Kansas City," the club said in a statement to KSHB 41. "The potential development and public-private partnership opportunity this presents is one we take seriously. In that process, we also continue to be actively engaged in discussions with Jackson County, the city of Kansas City, and the state of Missouri. We look forward to sharing more details about our ballpark district as we determine the best location for our fans, partners, and our community of fellow Kansas Citians."

Some Jackson County and city officials view the flirtation with NKC as posturing intended to create leverage when talks turn in earnest to how the new stadium will be financed, including how much will come from taxpayers.

The Royals have called the Truman Sports Complex home since 1973. Jackson County voters approved bonds for the project in 1967 and funded renovations in 1991, 1999 and through a new sales tax passed in 2006.

The Royals’ current lease at Kauffman Stadium runs through the 2030 season. It expires Jan. 31, 2031.