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A $36 million youth sports complex opens in the Northland after years of controversy

A man in a blue suit pretends to play soccer with a person dressed in a dog mascot suit on an outdoor soccer field.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas plays pretend soccer with Blue the Sporting KC mascot after ribbon-cutting ceremonies Tuesday at Central Bank Sporting Complex.

Operated by Sporting KC, the $36 million Central Bank Sporting Complex features 10 multi-sport synthetic turf fields and two playgrounds. But when it was proposed at the onset of the pandemic, the plan was criticized for its demands for taxpayer funds and lack of revenue-sharing with the city.

A massive youth sports complex once criticized as a “tone deaf” waste of millions in taxpayer dollars has finally opened in Kansas City’s Northland, more than three years after it was initially proposed.

Young soccer players have actually been racking up goals since Labor Day at the Central Bank Sporting Complex, but with the full collection of fields finally ready for play, officials finally celebrated its grand opening on Tuesday.

“We often talk about budgets and projects and development,” said Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas at a ribbon-cutting ceremony. “Rarely do you get to see smiling faces and the next generation truly enjoying projects like this one.”

The $36 million project features 10 multi-sport synthetic turf fields, two playgrounds and two concession stands, all operated by Sporting KC. It sits on 76 acres near 152 Highway and Platte Purchase Drive.

The complex was built in phases, with the first four fields ready in September. The last few fields were recently completed, and only a little bit of landscaping work remains.

Construction started in June 2021, but it tookyears of often-heated debate in Kansas City Councilfor the project ever to get off the ground.

When the complex wasproposed in April 2020, many council members and city residents complained of ill-timed and costly plan — especially at the outset of COVID-19, when the city faced a potential budget shortfall.

“Businesses are closing. Their life savings, gone," said Kansas City Parks and Recreation board commissioner Chris Goode at a Feb. 2021 committee meeting. "But billionaires are asking our city for $36 million in the middle of a global pandemic.”

Large blue rectangles act as shade covers over a large concrete patio where people are walking beneath near soccer and baseball fields.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Visitors to Central Bank Sporting Complex tour the facility Tuesday prior to ribbon-cutting ceremonies for the $36 million dollar project in the Northland.

More than 1,600 peoplesigned a Change.org petition arguing that taxpayers should not be responsible for funding the Northland soccer complex.

Lucas was one of the votes to move the project forward. As the sports complex opened more than two years later, Lucas acknowledged the journey that it took to get there.

“So many of us have been part of the long conversation,” Lucas said. “It feels like I should have started this speech with four score and seven years ago.”

The project was originally pitched at a cost of $43 million, with 12 fields, but it was eventually trimmed to 10 fields and a $7 million smaller budget.

Initially, the terms of the deal required Kansas City to pay entirely for the project by issuing bonds and using public improvement funds earmarked for the Northland, along with some tax-increment financing. Any profits or losses from the park would have belonged to Sporting KC.

But officials said the agreement would be re-negotiated to share any potential profits. KCUR has requested details of the new arrangement, and will update this story when that information is provided.

Sporting KC also estimates that the complex will generate $194 million in local sales tax revenue over the next 30 years — mostly through tournament attendance on weekends. The organization expects to draw more than 71,000 out-of-town guests annually.

Large, vertical nets are seen affixed to tall poles around softball fields. A large concrete apron is in the foreground along with a kiosk that reads "Map."
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
A map kiosk give visitors park information at Central Bank Sporting Complex in the Northland which celebrated its opening Tuesday.

Samantha Price, who lives just three miles from the complex, said she was initially skeptical of the need for more soccer fields in the Northland. Then her son started playing soccer.

“We’ve been driving out to Olathe. We’ve been driving out to Overland Park and now we have something here right next door,” Price said. “It’s great.”

Previously, the metro had just four major turf soccer complexes, which were often fully booked: 12 fields off 135th Street in Overland Park, Kansas; nine fields near Renner Road in Olathe, Kansas; 12 fields close to Village West in Kansas City, Kansas; and six fields at Swope Soccer Village off 63rd Street in Kansas City, Missouri.

Price explained her family would often return home after midnight from soccer games on the other side of the metro.

“It’s cutting down on driving time,” she said. “It’s giving kids a chance to have a fun and safe place to play their soccer, and even if you’re not involved in a sport, you can come play on this playground.”

Children interact with playground equipment on a deep green, synthetic turf field.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Children from St. Paul Episcopal Day School play on the Variety KC all-inclusive playground at Central Bank Sporting Complex on Tuesday.

Kansas City Council member Ryana Parks-Shaw acknowledged she initially voted down the project.

“I think we need to be good stewards of the taxpayer dollars,” Parks-Shaw said in Feb. 2021. “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.”

On Tuesday, Parks-Shaw applauded the persistence in moving forward, saying that the local economic benefits and its potential contribution to drawingthe 2026 World Cup to Kansas City helped convince her.

“I can agree and attest to the fact that I know this was hard for you all,” Parks-Shaw said. “I was one of the ones that was making it difficult.”

In addition to the 10 fields, the complex includes an “all-inclusive” playground that is wheelchair accessible and available to children of all abilities.

About 100 feet away is a power soccer court, which will be home to 4-on-4 wheelchair matches.

All the fields have synthetic playing surfaces rather than grass, and are designed to be played year-round — and not just for soccer. The fields can also be reconfigured for use by softball, lacrosse and flag football teams.

As KCUR’s general assignment reporter and visual journalist, I bring our audience inside the daily stories that matter most to the people of the Kansas City metro, showing how and why events affect residents. Through my photography, I seek to ensure our diverse community sees itself represented in our coverage. Email me at carlos@kcur.org.
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