Kansas City fans claim power back by rejecting Chiefs and Royals stadium tax – USA TODAY

It’s a feeling with which the modern sports fan is all too familiar: Powerlessness.
Powerless to stop the incessant greed that drives the industry, that has imploded collegiate athletics and watered down the pros.
Powerless to avoid the surcharges that come with simply trying to be a fan, be it onerous ticket fees or disputes between your favorite team and the cable behemoth fighting over your dollars, resulting in either an inability to watch the games or coughing up several more dollars a month.
And in so many cases, powerless to defy the will of team owners seeking billions of dollars in public handouts to fund new stadiums, which are always billed as “transformative” but without fail cater to a higher-end demographic while digging into the pockets of those who may never set foot inside.
So that’s why what happened in Kansas City on Tuesday was so inspiring: Fans and citizens took the power back.
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They resoundingly rejected a ballot measure that would have funded a new stadium for the Kansas City Royals in the city’s downtown. It also would have provided the Chiefs significant upgrades to Arrowhead Stadium, and free reign over the complex that has housed both franchises for the past half-century.
The public ask: A 40-year sales tax that would have funded roughly $1.5 billion for a new Royals stadium and a modernization of Arrowhead. Stadium proponents, as they do, will tell you this was no new tax, simply a continuation of a 3/5-cent sales tax that was already funding renovations at the Truman Sports Complex.
Which is a funny way of saying, “Yes, you, the public, are still paying off the most recent renovations at Kauffman Stadium. Now please, give us more, because you probably won’t miss it, anyway.”
The public said no, by a 58%-42% margin.
When publicly-funded ballparks opened in Atlanta and Arlington, Texas, it was striking that their old (and, in Texas’ case, thoroughly modern if roofless) facilities were barely a quarter-century old. Well, the most recent Kauffman renovations were completed by 2010, at a cost in current dollars of about $380 million.
So in barely more than a decade, after Major League Baseball saw fit to award the 2012 All-Star Game to Kansas City, it’s time for a new home, largely on the taxpayers’ dime?
Hey, you like ballpark rankings, right? Everybody loves ballpark rankings. Well, Kauffman absolutely punches above its weight, checking in at No. 11 in USA TODAY Sports’ recent expert poll, or No. 13 by our friend Pete Caldera, or No. 12 just the other day by Yahoo Sports.
Given that the top 10 are virtually accounted for by true classics (Fenway Park) and modern ones (Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Baltimore), consistently ranking in MLB’s top half is a remarkable feat, especially after tens of billions of dollars were spent constructing new parks coast-to-coast.
It’s strange how out-of-towners and true fans alike have no problem with Kauffman, yet the Royals feel obliged to dump on it. They’ve cited “concrete cancer” that occurred during the renovations as a costly future expense to mitigate, though that sounds like a Them (and their attorneys) problem and not a Kansas City problem.
But John Sherman, the new owner, paid $1 billion to purchase the team in 2019, shortly after Atlanta’s Battery development became the jewel all big league owners coveted. Ancillary developments are where the big money is made for big league owners these days, particularly since the money generated is not subject to MLB’s revenue-sharing guidelines.
And these things are true: Downtown stadiums are neat, and the half-hour or so drive to the Truman Complex is kind of a bummer, even as the Chiefs’ tailgating experience is hailed as second to none and Taylor Swift saw fit to spend both Christmas and New Year’s Eve out there.
A carless experience to see a ballgame is fantastic. But the aesthetic pleasure of a downtown stadium comes at a cost: Live, work and play always results in displacement.
That’s why grassroots opposition to the stadium bill emerged, with Kansas City tenant groups activating dissent and raising concerns about the future of downtown. Team-led “listening sessions” were hard to compete with the urgency of natives seeing their once-affordable city slip away.
As so often happens, listening gave way to hardball. The Chiefs and Royals rolled out the stars – MVP and Royals minority investor Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, young star Bobby Witt Jr. and stalwart Salvador Perez – to implore voters: “We need you.”
Turns out there was one defense Mahomes could not solve.
KC Tenants, a 10,000-member group comprised largely of working-class Kansas Citians, was the first group to voice disapproval with the project. The opposition intensified when specifics failed to emerge from stadium proponents, setting the stage for what looks like a significant upset.
“It feels great to know that the position we took as a citywide tenant union was the side of the people of Kansas City,” says Daj Moreland, an organizer with KC Tenants and manager of their stadium opposition efforts. “Our union went through a very lengthy democratic process in making the decision to take this position.
“A big part of that process was acknowledging the risk in going up against two of the biggest institutions in Kansas City, not to mention the other really big institutions that will fall behind them. I feel excited and happy to know we are on the side of the people. And when you side with the people, you win.”
It’s striking how better-informed populaces are nowadays compared to the Roaring ‘90s Ballpark Era when it comes to nebulous economic impact studies that tout the float-all-boats effects of a new stadium. Now, stadium opponents have an eye on a new project’s ability to displace: First through demolition, then rising property taxes and rents.
You might not guess, but Kansas City has witnessed the highest spike in rents in the country, according to a report released in February. The city also lacks the safety nets bigger cities enjoy; as Moreland puts it, Kansas City is not a great place to be poor.
“For us, this is a fight against billionaires, sure,” she says. “But the bigger question we asked in this campaign is who is Kansas City for?
“We have the World Cup coming here, we won the Super Bowl, we have an expanding streetcar. Kansas City is becoming more desirable. The question is whether Kansas City is for the people who live here and make it what it is – the people who cut our hair, who work at our grocery stores, who teach our children. Or if our city exists only and primarily to serve tourism.
“This ballot question answered how people in Kansas City feel about that.”
Voters were unmoved by the boilerplate vague threats that the teams issued.
The Chiefs said they would “have to consider all options.” The kicker came this week, when Sherman and Chiefs CEO Clark Hunt penned a joint letter to fans, assuring them there will be “no new taxes” and striking an apocalyptic tone KC perhaps hadn’t seen since “The Day After” was set there in 1983.
“There is no redo,” they solemnly noted. “There is no going back.”
(Word to the wise: There’s always a redo. You can always go back.)
What ultimately killed this vote was a moving target, the Royals failing to settle on a true finalist or finalists for a ballpark site, with the “Crossroads District” and its de rigueur architectural renderings not rolled out until March 26, a week before the election.
The voters said no. So now, what does happen?
“We’re deeply disappointed, as we are steadfast in our belief that Jackson County is far better off with the Chiefs and the Royals,” Sherman told supporters at a concession speech Tuesday night. “This is a belief I hold both professionally and personally as someone whose roots run deep in this town, as someone who’s been a dedicated fan, a season ticket holder and now leading a remarkable ownership group assembled for its ties to Kansas City.
“We will take some time to reflect on and process the outcome and find a path forward that works for our Royals and our fans.”
The Royals and Chiefs can play ball with Kansas, trying their luck with a different constituency on the other side of the Missouri River. They can try again with Jackson County and perhaps earn the mayor’s support a little further ahead of the election next time.
They can follow Oakland and Milwaukee and other cities’ leads and toss around the R-word – relocation – in vague and then increasingly starker terms until the populace freaks out.
Or, they can embrace what they have, a venerated site that’s seen two World Series championships and hatched a football dynasty that can’t seem to stop winning Super Bowls.
That won’t make Clark Hunt or John Sherman any richer. For now, though, they can’t rely on the people of Kansas City to aid that cause.

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