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Despite Concerns, Kansas City Council Moves Ahead With Proposed $36 Million Northland Soccer Complex

030720_LR_Northland club team warms up at Scheels soccer complex in Johnson County.JPG
Lisa Rodriguez
KCUR 89.3
The Sporting Missouri Valley Rowdies warm up on the field at Scheels Overland Park Soccer Complex on a Saturday morning in early March.

The council voted 8-4 to approve the project, but critics say spending millions on the project is "tone deaf," considering the economic struggles the city is facing.

The Kansas City Council voted 8-4 Thursday to move ahead with a controversial proposal to build a $36 million dollar youth soccer complex in the Northland.

Still, some city officials maintain now is not the time to spend on new development while the city faces a massive budget shortfall due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Second District Councilman Dan Fowler said ahead of Thursday’s vote that he believes it is within the city’s means to fund the project. He added that it will bring more money into the city in the long term.

“I think we're on an uphill swing. This city COVID-19 has been a shock to us. I think it's time to come out of COVID-19. This is a way of building for this city,” said Fowler.

Fowler said it’s estimated that the project will lead to $194 million in sales tax revenue over the next 30 years.

The council voted to move ahead with negotiations in April 2020 to pay for the facility at North Platte Purchase Drive and Highway 152, which will be operated by Sporting KC. Since then, the project's budget has been reduced from $43 million to $36 million, and has gone from planning 12 fields to 10.

Sporting KC’s president Jake Reid said at Wednesday’s committee meeting this revenue will mainly come through the facility’s weekend tournaments.

“We've got over 50,000 kids in our programs, everywhere from Omaha to Oklahoma City We've got a huge footprint that will be the draw. Currently, we do not have the capability to do that on a regular basis due to the lack of field,” Reid said.

Sporting KC estimated that tournament attendance would attract 71,145 out-of-town guests annually.

Supporters said that Northland families would benefit from a new soccer complex closer to home.

“I think of families that I've coached directly that have spent hours driving from the Northland to South Johnson County and other areas because there are not enough quality premier sports facilities north of the river," said Matt Williams, a project manager with Perfect Game Midwest.

"And time is something that families can't get back,” Williams said.

Ochsner Hare & Hare
The rendering of the planned soccer complex shows an early version at North Platte Purchase Drive and Highway 152. The plan has since reduced the 12 fields to 10.

Still, some city council members have expressed grave concerns about spending millions to fund the project when the city faces a $70 million dollar budget shortfall in the coming fiscal year alone.

The city would pay for the project, in part, by extending tax subsidies for other projects in the Northland and redirecting those taxes to the sports complex.

Kansas City Parks and Recreation Board Commissioner Chris Goode said at Wednesday’s committee meeting that the proposal is “tone-deaf” given the impacts of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“Businesses are closing. Their life savings, gone," Goode said. "But billionaires are asking our city for $36 million in the middle of a global pandemic.”

An online petition created by Goode in opposition to the proposal has reached over 1,000 signatures in the last week. The petition states that they aren’t against the development of the soccer complex, but don’t want taxpayer dollars used to fund it.

Fifth District Councilwoman Ryana Parks-Shaw expressed concerns Thursday that the council was voting to fast track the ordinance. She said the suggestion that the ordinance was being accelerated in order to avoid a citizen initiative petition didn’t “sit right” with her.

Parks-Shaw also expressed concerns that the plan does not include revenue sharing with the city. Under the original plan, Northland Sporting kept any profits.

“I think we need to be good stewards of the taxpayer dollars. And so the fact that it looks like this agreement does not include any revenues back to the city or to the city's taxpayers is a problem for me,” Parks-Shaw said Wednesday.

Under the latest proposal, the City Manager will further negotiate opportunities for revenue sharing and its Swope Soccer Village deal with Sporting KC.

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas, as well as councilmembers Heather Hall, Kevin O’Neill, Teresa Loar, Dan Fowler, Melissa Robinson, Andrea Bough and Kevin McManus voted in favor of the project. Councilmembers Brandon Ellington, Parks-Shaw, Eric Bunch and Katheryn Shields voted against.

Sporting KC officials say the complex is expected to be finished by as early as May 2022.

More than ever, education lies at the intersection of equity, housing, funding, and other diverse issues facing Kansas City’s students, families and teachers. As KCUR’s education reporter, I’ll break down the policies driving these issues in schools and report what’s happening in our region's classrooms. You can reach me at jodifortino@kcur.org.
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