After voters reject tax measure, Chiefs and Royals look toward future, whether in KC or elsewhere

photo by: AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

Kansas City Royals owner John Sherman addresses the crowd during an election watch party on Tuesday, April 2, 2024, in Kansas City, Mo.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Royals owner John Sherman and Chiefs president Mark Donovan stood on a small stage in the second-floor lounge of the historic J. Rieger & Co. distillery in Kansas City on Tuesday night, acknowledging the will of voters who had rejected a sales tax initiative that would have helped pay for a new downtown ballpark and renovations to Arrowhead Stadium.

“Won a baseball game tonight,” said Sherman, whose Royals had beaten the Orioles, “but we didn’t win this.”

The ballot measure didn’t just lose, though. It lost decisively.

More than 58% of voters in Jackson County, Missouri, rejected the three-eighths of a cent sales tax. The Royals, who had promised $1 billion in private funding, wanted to use their share of the tax revenue to build a new ballpark as the centerpiece of a $2 billion-plus downtown district in a thriving arts neighborhood known as the Crossroads. The Chiefs, who had committed $300 million from their ownership, wanted to use their share for an $800 million renovation of Arrowhead Stadium.

“We will look to do what is in the best interest of our fans and organization as we move forward,” Donovan said Tuesday night.

Sherman and Donovan then walked off the stage and out a back door, leaving what had been an upbeat and festive watch party without taking questions, yet leaving many questions to be answered in the days and months ahead.

WHY DID THE TAX FAIL?

There was no single reason the tax failed; rather, an accumulation of factors soured voters. Among them were the location of the downtown ballpark, the messaging from the franchises and the very nature of their construction plans.

Last fall, the Royals floated ballpark concepts east of downtown and in neighboring Clay County, Missouri, and said they would decide by September on one of the sites. But that self-imposed deadline passed, and it wasn’t until February that the club said it would move instead to the Crossroads, leaving less than two months to sway voters on the location.

Yet the Royals experienced serious pushback from business owners in the area, some of whom would have had to sell their property and relocate. Compounding the problem was the lack of concrete plans — the Royals could not even produce a current ballpark rendering by Tuesday night after agreeing last week to keep open a street in the stadium footprint.

Those were just some of the messaging problems that plagued the campaign.

Along with lacking transparency, the Royals and Chiefs shifted their approach at the insistence of political strategists running a committee to keep the teams in Jackson County. Their once positive and collaborative messages were replaced by veiled threats that they would leave if the tax failed, and the “vote yes-or-else” message turned many voters away.

Then there were the plans themselves. In the case of the Chiefs, the renovation would have upgraded concourses, video boards and the parking at Arrowhead Stadium. But the everyday fan, who in many cases already has been priced out of games, balked at helping to pay for exclusive endzone clubs, renovated suites, sideline clubs and VIP entry points.

WHAT IS NEXT?

The Chiefs and Royals have said they would explore all options if the tax failed. And while they could still agree to a revised deal with Jackson County, they also could be courted by locales offering tax breaks and other financial benefits.

Officials in Kansas have not been shy about trying to woo the Chiefs across the state line, possibly to an area that includes Kansas Speedway and Children’s Mercy Park, the home of MLS club Sporting Kansas City. Meanwhile, cities such as Nashville that desire a big league ballclub could promise the Royals the funding they desire.

The two teams are deeply woven into the fabric of Kansas City, though. Sherman said one of the reasons the late David Glass sold him the Royals in 2019 is that he entrusted the Kansas City businessman with keeping the baseball team in town, where fans have supported it through far more losing seasons than winning ones.

The most likely scenario is the Chiefs and Royals try again in Jackson County, though rather than working together, each could seek its own deal. Jackson County executive Frank White, a member of the Royals’ Hall of Fame, had been a vocal critic of the tax yet said Tuesday night he was hopeful the teams would “come back to the table.”

Similar sentiments came from Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas, who endorsed the tax initiative only late last week.

“The people of Kansas City and Jackson County love the Chiefs and the Royals. They rejected plans and processes they found inadequate,” Lucas said. “I look forward to working with the Chiefs and Royals to build a stronger, more open and collaborative process that will ensure the teams, their events and investments remain in Kansas City for generations to come.”

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