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Kansas City Chiefs and Royals say they’ll stay in Jackson County if voters pass stadium sales tax

Pregame fireworks erupt at Arrowhead Stadium prior to the AFC Championship game against the Cincinnati Bengals on Jan. 31, 2022.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Pregame fireworks erupt at Arrowhead Stadium prior to the AFC Championship game against the Cincinnati Bengals on Jan. 31, 2022.

The Jackson County Legislature must decide by January 23 if it will put a measure before voters in the April election that would renew the 3/8-cents sales tax, which helps fund both Kauffman and Arrowhead stadiums. If voters pass the measure, the Chiefs and Royals say they'll commit to staying in Kansas City.

Following months of speculation over where the Kansas City Royals will build a new ballpark — and concerns from legislators that the Royals and Chiefs may be courted across state lines — both teams announced Friday that they will commit to staying in Jackson County if voters extend the current stadiums sales tax.

“The Chiefs and the Royals have partnered with Jackson County for 50 years in a partnership that has worked well for all constituents,” the joint statement reads.

Currently, both Kauffman and Arrowhead Stadiums benefit from a Jackson County 3/8-cents sales tax, to the tune of millions of dollars per year. At the center of the discussion is whether to extend that sales tax for another 40 years.

However, talks around the proposed new baseball stadium have been hampered by tensions between Kansas City and the Jackson County Legislature, with Mayor Quinton Lucas and others blaming County Executive Frank White for "bad faith" negotiations.

And time is running short: The Jackson County Legislature must decide by January 23 if it will put a measure before voters on the April ballot that would renew the sales tax.

“Retaining the Chiefs and Royals and the events hosted at the team’s facilities like Beyoncé and Taylor Swift and global sporting events like the MLB All-Star Game and the World Cup is a priority for Kansas City – at a fair value for our taxpayers,” Lucas said in a statement Friday. “The Chiefs, the Royals, County Executive White, and the County Legislature have made great strides in their efforts to ensure voters have a fair deal to evaluate on the April 2024 ballot.”

White, however, said the deal is far from done — and urged patience, despite the time crunch.

“As we navigate these crucial negotiations involving potential commitments of billions of taxpayer dollars, I want to make it abundantly clear: I have not, and will not, rush into any agreement,” White wrote in a statement. “We are mindful that we have weeks until the April ballot deadline. But we also have seven years remaining on our current leases with both teams, providing us a valuable window to thoroughly evaluate all proposals.”

According to Jackson County documents obtained by KCUR, Jackson County taxpayers would end up paying between $4.4-5.1 billion for a new Royals stadium over the course of those four decades.

In the joint statement, the Chiefs and Royals say they have “agreed to provide more than $200 million in new economic benefits to Jackson County over 40 years in a new lease agreement.”

A spokesperson for the Royals confirmed that those benefits would come from the teams committing to pay for insurance coverage for both facilities — a cost that is currently shouldered by Jackson County — which they claim will save taxpayers between $80-100 million, and from not directing the park levy to the stadiums.

The Chiefs say that they will undergo an “extensive renovation” to Arrowhead, while the Royals say they will build a downtown stadium and “privately fund” a ballpark district.

The Royals still have not publicly decided on a final location for their ballpark and $2 billion district, despite promising to make a decision by September. Their current options appear to be in the East Village in downtown Kansas City, or in the Crossroads at the former Kansas City Star printing press.

A third suggested location, in North Kansas City, falls in Clay County and thus would be out of the running under the teams' commitment to Jackson.

Critically, both teams say in their statement that they are “committed to entering into a robust community benefits agreement similar to agreements provided by other NFL and MLB teams.”

While no details have been released yet, a community benefits agreement has been a major sticking point for labor unions and advocates in Kansas City. Since the Royals first announced a new stadium district, community groups led by Stand Up KC have demanded the team agree to provide union jobs and livable wages for stadium and entertainment district workers.

The groups also want to see the construction of affordable housing around the new stadium.

Before the teams' announcement on Friday, Jackson County legislator Manny Abarca declared that he intended to introduce a second tax bill at the Monday's legislative meeting that would create a 3/16-cent sales tax for 25 years that would only fund the Kansas City Chiefs, not the Royals.

“In light of false promises to be more forthcoming with the public, I no longer have the patience, like many of the taxpayers have shared, to wait any longer," he told KCUR on Friday. "I would like to keep both teams in the County but my trust continues to be broken and I would rather save the Chiefs than perpetually wait.”

Abarca, who chairs Jackson County's Stadium Improvements Committee, told KCUR’s Up To Date that the two team were both made offers to move to Kansas. As negotiations dragged out, Abarca said he worried Jackson County leaders were going to fumble the ball with the Chiefs, too.

“If we were not able to secure two major league teams that have been here that voters have supported for already nearly 25 years… we're all going to look like terrible elected officials,” Abarca said.

The prospect of a Kansas defection also worried labor leaders, because local construction unions would lose thousands of jobs as well as the prevailing wage — a minimum wage in Missouri, but not in Kansas, that a majority of workers must be paid on public projects.

"The potential for what we have in two stadiums are thousands of man hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars to the membership of these local unions here,” Ralph Oropeza, business manager of the Greater Kansas City Building and Construction Trades Council, told KCUR last month. “So if that goes out the window then we're looking for people having to travel and go elsewhere to find those kinds of jobs.”

Following the teams' announcement, Abarca released a statement praising the "clear concessions of a 'better deal'" and commitment to a community benefits agreement.

"It sounds familiar and glad to see we have an opportunity to press for more outcomes and broader community benefits, beyond workers right," he wrote.

As KCUR’s Audience Editor, I ask the questions: What do people need from us, and how can we best deliver it? I work across departments and projects to ensure our entire community is represented in and best served by our journalism. I help lead KCUR’s digital efforts to make our station more responsive, more competitive and more engaging. Contact me at gabe@kcur.org.
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