Royals Owner Does Not Rule Out Downtown Ballpark: A Conversation With John Sherman
"At the end of the day, it's about what's best for our fans, what's best for the community and what's best for the ball club."
Talk about the possibility of bringing baseball to downtown Kansas City, long a dream of real estate developers and civic boosters, got a further boost a few weeks ago when The Kansas City Star announced it would be vacating the two-block-long glass building it now occupies at 16th and McGee Streets by the end of next year.
Rosana Privitera Biondo, a principal of the group that bought the building in 2017, told KCUR after the announcement that multiple uses were being considered for the copper and glass building, including converting it into a brewery or a call center. But she also threw out another possibility: tearing down the 434,000-square-foot structure, which opened in 2006 and cost $200 million to build and equip, to make way for a baseball stadium.
The Royals current lease expires in 2031, when the Truman Sports Complex will be nearly 60 years old. Royals Stadium underwent a $250 million renovation nearly 12 years ago, but once the lease expires, the Royals will face the question of whether it makes more sense to renovate the stadium again or build a new ballpark somewhere else.
Biondo told KCUR a new Royals stadium could rise over The Kansas City Star building’s site and extend over I-670, near the Power and Light District and the Crossroads.
Other locations have been suggested over the years, including the East Village just east of City Hall; an area north of the central business district near the River Market; and a hilltop site near Cambridge Circle, not far from the Boulevard Brewery.
KCUR reached out to John Sherman, the principal owner of the Kansas City Royals, to ask him whether bringing baseball downtown was a realistic possibility and, if so, how far discussions on the subject have proceeded.
A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows:
KCUR's Dan Margolies:
When The Star said it was going to be vacating what used to be known as the Press Pavilion and I asked Rosie Privitera Biondo what they were going to do with the building after The Star moves out, she threw out a bunch of possibilities, including razing the building to make a way for a baseball stadium. I wanted to get your reaction to that.
Well, I would just tell you about downtown baseball. We have lots of ideas that people are talking to us about just because there's a really keen interest in it, conceptually. If you just look around the country, you see these urban ballparks and how they become a hub of activity and not just for baseball but for other things, even when there’s not a game down there. You see what they’ve done at Wrigley [Field] and some other places, even some of the newer constructs. But you know, I think we’ve got a lot of stuff that we're dealing with right now. So we're certainly listening to people, but we're in a great place to play right now.
Over the next 10 years, we’ll be evaluating different ideas. At the end of the day, it’s about what's best for our fans, what’s best for the community and what’s best for the ballclub. We've got lots of ideas coming to us, but the more pressing thing really right now, as we came through a challenging year where we didn't have fans in the field, we had a short season. Right now, the energies are focused on how we navigate 2021. We think things will get a lot better for us, but there's still some uncertainty and how the virus and the vaccine development distribution works out. We're certainly hopeful, but that's where a lot of the focus is.
But there's an awful lot of people interested in downtown baseball. And, I think it's something that we'll be thinking about. But, it’s not a kind of today item.
So I infer from what you’re saying that you have at least had some preliminary conversations with city officials and perhaps architectural firms and others about the possibility or feasibility of a ballpark downtown.
I wouldn't say we've talked to city officials. We have a lot of people in the private sector coming at us, real estate people, financial people. And, certainly there are a couple of firms here in the sports architecture business that would love to help us. They’d love to help us renovate out at Truman as well.
I take it that the people you've talked to about this possibility of a downtown ballpark are very keen on the idea.
I forget when this came up before – was it 2005? – before the renovation occurred. I think there was a lot of activity, the Downtown Council, different real estate people. So, I think that there's a lot of people that dusted off those plans. And they're certainly interested in talking to us. I would just say that we are open to listening to ideas. We've got some other priorities on our plate right now. But on the other hand, this ownership group is Kansas City-centric and civically engaged. And, we want to do what's best for the community long term.
So just one final question regarding the possibility of a downtown ballpark, the idea that Ms. Biondo tossed out: Would that be a location you might consider?
I don't really know. I can't answer that because we've seen a number of different ideas around sites and unfortunately or fortunately, some people have more bias towards some than others. But I can't really comment on that site.
I asked my colleague who covers sports at KCUR, Greg Echlin, if he had any questions for you. And the first he has with regard to the Toronto Raptors, the invitation the city extended to them to move here for at least a year. That didn't happen, but it did bring up the feasibility of Kansas City as a potential NBA site. And Greg wants to know, can the entertainment dollar in this city stretch far enough for another professional sports franchise, in addition to the Royals, the Chiefs and Sporting KC?
I'm not really prepared to answer that question because I think it requires a lot of evaluation and analysis, and certainly people have looked at it – hockey, NBA, room for a winter sport down here.
I think this is a great sports town. When I think about watching [the Chiefs] Monday night -- [quarterback Patrick] Mahomes magic. Never a doubt at the end, right? Certainly I think our [Royals] teams are going to get better and get back to competing for a championship on behalf of our fans. I think Sporting KC – the shootout on Sunday was pretty dramatic in the playoff game. And then I think about the stuff that Kathy Nelson at the Sports Commission is working on – bidding on a World Cup, trying to get other NCAA events here. So I think it’s just a great sports town. It’s hard for me to answer without some market research. Do we have the capacity for another major sports team? I can’t answer that.
You announced a few weeks ago that Karen Daniel, a retired Black & Veatch executive, will be joining your ownership group. How did that come about and did she and Mahomes, who’s also a member of the Royals ownership group, have to go through the same screening process through major league baseball as all the other owners?
Yes, they did. Everyone that becomes a minority owner has to go through a screening process with Major League Baseball, not to the extent of a control transaction when we bought the team. But she went through the normal vetting at MLB, and we're just thrilled. I've known her for some time, but her personal story is something that's really intriguing and this love of baseball and her grandfather – that’s something that's touched us a little bit. She'll be a great addition to this ownership group. She's going to be on the board of Royals Charities.
You think about these franchises, right? You want to compete and win on the field and that tends to lift the spirits of a community. When you think about these parades, the Chiefs parade last year and the Royals parade, and I can go back to the Sporting one in the MLS Cup. Yes, we want to compete. But I think you have a responsibility to do positive things in the community. We weren’t expecting a global pandemic when we bought the team. If someone knew it was coming, I wish they’d told me. But, I think what I've seen from this group during this period of time that's been challenging from a business standpoint is nobody blamed the commitments there. So I think Karen is special, but I think the whole ownership group is committed to not only putting out a good product on the field but doing things in the community that serve the greater good.
Final question: If I wanted to become a part owner of the Royals, how much is the down payment?
[Laughs uproariously.] Can't answer that question.