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A major Kansas City coalition leaves Royals stadium talks after team slashes housing promises

A man in a red shirt that reads Stand Up KC and a royals hat stands behind a podium and speaks into the mic. Behind him is a crowd of people in similar red shirts holding posters that demand good union jobs.
Savannah Hawley-Bates
KCUR 89.3
Terrence Wise, an organizer with Stand Up KC, led a rally at City Hall last year. The Good Jobs Coalition hopes the Royals will include the affordable housing demands in the private community benefits agreement the team is negotiating with the group.

Following two months of negotiations, and with just weeks left before a critical April sales tax vote, some members of the Jackson County Community Benefits Coalition have dropped out because the Royals watered down key demands for housing protections, childcare and transportation.

Ahead of what some hoped would be the final approval of a community benefits agreement for the new Royals stadium this weekend, and after months of talks, members representing the Missouri Workers Center and Heartland Center for Jobs and Freedom left the negotiating table after seeing the Royals gut their proposed housing assurances.

In a letter announcing the exit, Gina Chiala of the Heartland Center and Jeremy Al-Haj of the Missouri Workers Center said the Royals’ proposal has created “overwhelming doubt that such an agreement is anywhere within reach without a dramatic shift from the teams.”

“Unfortunately, the responses we have received from the teams at the County Table largely ignore the community’s demands, fail to make meaningful progress on racial and economic justice, and assign value to the Teams’ own customary charitable works in an attempt to bloat the (agreement)’s value without actually providing the community the benefits sought,” they said in the letter.

A spokesperson for the Royals declined to comment on the record.

The organizations are two of the five groups that make up the Good Jobs and Affordable Housing for All Coalition, which has been fighting for an agreement to benefit those who live and work in and around the stadium for more than a year.

The county coalition, led by Urban League of Kansas City president Gwendolyn Grant, also includes members representing transit and community organizations.

An early proposal put forward by the county coalition that was leaked in February listed nearly $1.4 billion in benefits over the 40-year life of the tax. The most recent counter proposal from the Royals, obtained by KCUR, is valued at more than $120 million over the 40 years.

The Royals stand to receive $1.08 billion from the tax during that period, with the other half of the proceeds going to the Chiefs. But first, they have to pay off the team’s debts on the Truman Sports Complex. Because of that, the Royals say they are only working with $350 million in proceeds from the tax.

The Good Jobs Coalition members said the Royal’s debts don’t affect the taxes Jackson County residents will pay.

“(That) does not diminish the billions of dollars in regressive taxation that would be levied and the disproportionate impact that would have on poor and working class people,” the group wrote in the letter. “Nor does it account for the additional $700 million in public financing that the team will seek from Kansas City and the state of Missouri.”

Page 1 of Good Jobs Coalition letter to Royals
Contributed to DocumentCloud by Savannah Hawley-Bates (KCUR 89.3) • View document or read text

In a March 12 letter to the county coalition, obtained by KCUR, the team’s vice president and general counsel Mike Post said the Royals “look forward to finalizing” the agreement.

“The Royals proposal would be the largest and most impactful CBA in the history of Kansas City and would be in the top tier across all of professional sports,” Post wrote.

On KCUR’s Up to Date, Royal’s Owner John Sherman echoed those statements.

“This is going to be a historic and unprecedented deal for our community from a financial perspective from diversity, hiring workforce, sustainability, I could go on and on,” Sherman said. “This will be a great deal for the city. It will be a top-tier community benefits agreement across sports.”

Sherman said the team had examined other community agreements from teams like the Milwaukee Bucks and the LA Clippers for their proposal, and that the Royals’ agreement would come out on top.

The representatives who left the coalition aren’t so sure.

The Bucks’ community benefits agreement was valued at $250 million, about half of the stadium’s cost. The Clippers contributed $100 million toward community benefits in the team's agreement for the $2 billion stadium — which is also about what the Royals have said their new ballpark would cost. Affordable housing accounted for about $80 million of that deal.

The county coalition originally proposed that both the Royals and the Chiefs give an initial contribution of $100 million and then $5 million per year into an affordable housing fund. That proposal, leaked in February, listed nearly $1.4 billion of benefits in areas like affordable housing, childcare benefits and transit.

In a March 11 draft obtained by KCUR, the Royals offered a $5 million donation to groups that fund things like eviction prevention and housing advocacy but left the decision of where the money goes up to the team’s discretion.

Chiala said the Royals' housing offer is a "paltry amount of money."

"When the Royals first announced that they were going to seek over $1 billion in taxpayer money for a new stadium, they also promised to sign an (agreement) that was transformative. That was their word," Chiala said. "It is so lopsided and so small that it will have no impact at all."

The team made major cuts to other areas of the proposal as well, including child care, transportation, health care and environmental benefits.

Members of the Good Jobs and Affordable Housing for All Coalition announced that The Royals have until March 19 to sign a community benefit agreement at a February townhall.
Mili Mansaray
The Beacon Kansas City
Members of the Good Jobs and Affordable Housing for All Coalition announced that The Royals have until March 19 to sign a private community benefits agreement at a February town hall.

Comparing the proposals

Original proposal from county coalition

  • Royals and Chiefs to provide affordable, 24-hour childcare on site or less than half a mile from the stadium and subsidize the cost so it doesn’t exceed 7% of the average income
  • $1 million toward transit-oriented improvements on the stadium site, plus $1 million annually for the duration of the sales tax to support KCATA zero-fare
  • $3 million annually for the duration of the sales tax into anti-violence and mental health awareness initiatives
  • Adopting an environmental climate policy within a year of opening the stadium. Working with contractors to limit the carbon footprint of the stadium. Establish a solid waste recycling program for food and beverage waste.

Royals’ latest proposal

  • $2 million during the construction period (about 3 years) to partner with a child care center near the stadium site
  • $2 million in partnership with the KCATA to provide game day transportation
  • $3 million invested over three years into anti-violence and mental health awareness initiatives
  • $10 million to construct the stadium following Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Gold certification requirements

The Royals’ proposal would obligate the team to pay more than $120 million to the community, much of it within the first five years of the tax. About $80 million of that would go toward community investments like community outreach dictated by the team and the Kansas City Urban Youth Academy.

Other benefits, like using minority- and women-owned businesses in the stadium’s design and construction and honoring the collective bargaining agreements of Kauffman Stadium workers at the downtown ballpark, don’t have a set monetary value in the deal.

Where talks go from here

The Good Jobs Coalition is also negotiating a private community benefits agreement with the Royals that includes job and wage protections the county can’t negotiate.

Other demands from the group — like housing requirements that would have the Royals replace any housing destroyed for the stadium with three times the number of units lost and build housing that costs no more than 30% of the area’s annual median income — were included in the county coalition’s initial proposal to the team.

Those demands are, so far, absent from both deals. But Chiala said the team seemed open to bringing the affordable housing demands to the private agreement.

The Good Jobs Coalition gave the team until next Tuesday, March 19, to finalize an agreement. If it falls through, the group has said it encourages Jackson County residents to oppose the tax.

On Friday, the coalition delivered a petition with 1,000 signatures that said they’d oppose the tax without a thorough community benefits agreement.

The county coalition will meet again to negotiate with the Royals on Saturday.

Corrected: March 15, 2024 at 6:25 PM CDT
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated how much the LA Clippers provided toward affordable housing benefits. The team gave $100 million in community benefits, $80 million of which was for affordable housing.
When news breaks, it can be easy to rely on officials and people in power to get information fast. As KCUR’s general assignment and breaking news reporter, I want to bring you the human faces of the day’s biggest stories. Whether it’s a local shop owner or a worker on the picket line, I want to give you the stories of the real people who are driving change in the Kansas City area. Email me at savannahhawley@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @savannahhawley.
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