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Kansas City Officials Move Ahead With $43 Million Northland Soccer Complex, Despite Questions About How To Pay For It

030720_LR_Northland club team warms up at Scheels soccer complex in Johnson County.JPG
Lisa Rodriguez
The Sporting Missouri Valley Rowdies warm up on the field at Scheels Overland Park Soccer Complex on a Saturday morning in early March.

Proponents argue the soccer fields are desperately needed and would boost economic development.

On the first day of the soccer season in March, Jason Hubbard, his wife and two sons piled into their minivan at 6:40 a.m. on a Saturday to drive 40 minutes to the Scheels Overland Park Soccer Complex in southern Johnson County, Kansas, for their oldest son’s first game of the year.

Hubbard said they enjoy coming out as a family to watch the games but the commute from Parkville, Missouri, can be a drag.

“It'd be nice if it wasn't an hour and a half round-trip car ride,” Hubbard said.

The coronavirus pandemic has all but wiped out the spring soccer season, though some area leagues are considering extending the season through July. But for Northland families, a proposed new soccer complex at North Platte Purchase Drive and Highway 152 is still an exciting prospect.

Kansas City officials on Wednesday moved ahead with a financing plan for the $43 million project despite the concerns of several city council members, who questioned the wisdom of funding the sports complex without knowing the full economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

The soccer fields would be operated by Sporting KC. The Kansas City Parks and Recreation department is still negotiating that contract.

Soccer fields in high demand

Right now, there are four major turf soccer complexes in the metro area — a 12-field complex off 135th street in Overland Park, nine fields near Renner Road in Olathe, 12 fields close to the Village West complex in Kansas City, Kansas, and the Swope Soccer Village, in Kansas City, Missouri, which has six turf fields.

Mike LaPlante, manager of the Scheels Overland Park Soccer Complex, said the fields would be booked every weekend from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. between March and June said during a typical season.

He doesn’t worry about an oversaturation of soccer fields in the Kansas City region, noting he coordinates with the complex in Olathe for large tournaments.

“We do work hand in hand because some of our events are so large that to have two complexes allows us to actually have a bigger event that benefits both communities,” LaPlante said.

Greg Hibbeler coaches two boys’ teams for the Sporting Missouri Valley club. He said a lot of his players live north of the river, and he worries about his older players driving to south Johnson County for games.

“And it's not just about the games either. It's about practicing. We struggle to find adequate practice fields,” Hibbeler said.

“If we had a dozen turf fields up north, they'd be filled every night of the week for practices, games on the weekends, and also be able to be a draw for tournaments as well.”

030720_LR_Families watch from the sidelines at Scheels soccer complex in Johnson County.JPG
Lisa Rodriguez
KCUR 89.3
Families gather along the sidelines to watch the first soccer game of the season. Most of the spring season has now been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Bringing economic activity back to the Missouri side

Jill Meyer said between her two sons, her family used to spend entire weekends going back and forth between the Johnson County and Wyandotte fields — only heading back to Kansas City, Missouri, to spend the night.

“Sometimes we consider, ‘Should we just get a hotel over here,'” Meyer said.

Second District Councilman Dan Fowler, who represents parts of the Northland, said Kansas City, Missouri, loses out on sales tax revenue when Kansas City families are instead getting gas, buying groceries and eating meals in Kansas.

He envisions additional food and retail options growing once the soccer complex is finished.

“So I think it'll be a great economic shot in the arm for the city as a whole,” he said.

Council members question the financing

Kansas City would pay for the $43 million project, in part, by extending tax subsidies for other projects in the Northland and redirecting those taxes to the sports complex.

On Wednesday, finance committee chair Katheryn Shields argued against the plan. She said the money would otherwise be coming back to the city as a whole.

“It undermines the whole concept of TIF (tax increment financing)," Shields said. "The whole purpose of a TIF is to help a business that otherwise would not have been able to develop in a particular area."

She argued that if her district, which includes midtown and downtown, used the same tactic, it would dramatically decrease funding available in the rest of the city.

She also said other jurisdictions supporting the project, like Platte County, where the fields would be located, aren’t contributing.

“They think it’s wonderful because Kansas City, Missouri, is shouldering this totally alone,” Shields said.

Councilman Kevin McManus also questioned spending such a large amount of money without knowing the full economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

The committee amended the measure to include an analysis of how reduced revenues would affect the project.

The measure will go before the full council next week.

Directors from the parks and finance departments assured the council they would have a chance to review the city’s financial position before giving the plan final approval.

Slow news days are a thing of the past. As KCUR’s news director, I want to cut through the noise, provide context to the headlines, and give you news you can use in your daily life – information that will empower you to make informed decisions about your neighborhood, your city and the region. Email me at lisa@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @larodrig.
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