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Kansas can try to lure the Chiefs and Royals, but it won’t be easy or cheap

Rendering of a possible WyCo Chiefs stadium
This artist's rendering shows what a future Chiefs stadium in Wyandotte County could look like.

When Kansas lawmakers return to Topeka Tuesday for a special session, leaders expect to take up a plan to incentivize the teams to leave Kansas City and set up shop in Kansas.

Kansas legislative leaders say the special session that starts Tuesday is about tax cuts, but the real intrigue will surround what lawmakers can come up with to lure the Chiefs and the Royals to Kansas.

“We'll have a bill ready to go, but it has to have the interest of both our House and the Senate members,” said Kansas House Speaker Dan Hawkins from Wichita.

A bill that would allow the state to issue bonds to cover 75% of stadium projects has been put forward. Senate Minority Leader Dinah Sykes, a Democrat representing Lenexa, says “there is an opportunity,” to get both teams across the state line.

That opportunity comes with a high price: It could cost up to $3 billion to build two stadiums.

What we know

Lawmakers acknowledge an incentive package will include STAR bonds. Those bonds rely on increased sales tax revenue to pay off bond holders. STAR bonds were used to build the Kansas Speedway, and the project was so successful the bonds were paid off early. The bonds were also used to build the Prairiefire retail development at 135th and Nall Avenue in Overland Park. Those bonds are in default.

A plan presented to lawmakers ahead of Tuesday's special session would allow issuance of bonds to cover 75% of stadium projects with a minimum capital investment of $1 billion.

The STAR bonds would have a 30-year payback schedule, rather than the 20-year timeline for other state bonded projects. Sales tax revenue from businesses inside stadium districts would be earmarked to cover bond debt, in addition to revenue from sports gambling.

Hawkins and Senate President Ty Masterson have both said any stadium development will generate enough extra sales tax to pay off a STAR bond.

Sen. Jeff Pittman, a Democrat who represents western Wyandotte County, said lawmakers need to be sure the state and county see a return on their investment.

“We have got to have a plan to make sure it isn't a burden of the county in which it was located,” Pittman said.

Where would the teams go?

While the Chiefs have gotten most of the attention — there is even a rendering of a Wyandotte County stadium — Sykes said she is more interested in the Royals.

“I do think baseball makes more sense,” she told KCUR. "The Royals are interested in a district with shops, restaurants, and a hotel, which makes it more likely to generate a lot of additional sales tax to pay off the STAR bonds."

Unified Government Mayor Tyrone Garner said he would like to see a Royals ballpark in downtown Kansas City, Kansas, with the Kansas River and the Kansas City, Missouri skyline beyond as a backdrop.

The view of the Kansas City, Missouri skyline from Kansas City, Kansas.
Holly Edgell
KCUR 89.3
The view of the Kansas City, Missouri skyline from Kansas City, Kansas.

“Land is cheap. It’s ripe for development. It sits centrally located in the Kansas City metropolitan area,” Garner told KCUR’s Up To Date.

The West Bottoms also has land available for a Royals stadium. The Chiefs would most likely be interested in land farther west. The old Schlitterbahn Waterpark is a possibility.

As lawmakers gear up for the special session, Garner also said he wants a deal to include an earnings tax for people who work in Wyandotte County but live somewhere else. That could be up to 70% of the workforce, according to Pittman. An earnings tax has failed in the past.

Political and legal hurdles

While there is bipartisan support to lure the teams, the effort is not without political obstacles. Perhaps the thorniest is opposition to any stadium subsidy by Americans for Prosperity, the Koch-funded conservative organization that carries a lot of weight in the Kansas Legislature. Masterson and Hawkins would have to round up GOP votes from members who could withstand AFP opposition.

The Chiefs may also be concerned about a 2021 settlement between the Rams and St. Louis for $790 million. St. Louis sued the Rams after the NFL team decamped for Los Angeles in 2016. The city alleged the league violated its own relocation guidelines, and the league and team enriched themselves at the expense of St. Louis and St. Louis County.

While not completely analogous to the Chiefs moving a few miles across the state line, it is a consideration especially given the fact Chiefs owner Clark Hunt and three other NFL owners were sanctioned by a judge for failing to abide by a discovery request in the lawsuit.

Also, while talk so far has been about Wyandotte County, there will be nothing in the legislation that requires the teams to move to a specific location. That likely puts nearby Johnson and Leavenworth counties in the mix.

Sykes said in the last two weeks she has spoken to lobbyists and representatives from both teams.

Missouri officials aren’t panicking – yet

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson said the state should be watching proceedings in Topeka closely.

“There is no question that we have to be concerned about it,” Parson said on KCUR’s Up To Date. “From a Kansas perspective, I don’t blame them one bit trying to get those teams over there on their side of the state because they have a huge economic impact.”

Still, Parson said he will not call a special session to counter any offer from Kansas. But Missouri will fight.

“If anybody thinks that we’re just going to roll over and not be competitive with this, (they're) sadly mistaken,” Parson said.

Other Missouri officials agree.

“They’re sources of great pride,” said Missouri state Rep. John Patterson, a Lee’s Summit Republican, who's expected to be the next state Missouri House speaker.

Closer to home, an ordinance will be filed Monday in the Jackson County Legislature for a November ballot question to approve a 3/16th-cent sales tax, “for the purpose of retaining the Kansas City Chiefs sports team in Jackson County, Missouri,” according to agenda documents.

A 3/8th-cent sales tax to support both the Chiefs and the Royals was soundly defeated in April.

A blue and white sign behind a window pane reads "Vote No on Question 1, Royals Nation AGAINST New Stadium Taxation."
Carlos Moreno
A sign in a store front near the intersection of 16th and Oak Streets on March 25, 2024 advocates against a 3/8th-cent stadium tax.

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas acknowledged that talk about the teams moving has renewed the economic border tensions between Missouri and Kansas. Otherwise, he seems unfazed by the prospect of losing one or both teams.

"My view is, everybody needs to calm down," Lucas told KSHB-TV. "I think everyone should calm down.”

Garner has said the overwhelming defeat of the sales tax plan in Jackson County opened the door to the move.

“We sat on the sidelines, and we waited and we did not interfere,” Garner said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story. 

Updated: June 17, 2024 at 2:47 PM CDT
This story was updated with details of a proposed incentive plan to lure the teams to Kansas.
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