Kansas City’s Next Era: Royals Plan to Retire Kauffman Stadium
When Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium sees its first pitch in 2023, it will enter its fifty-fourth season and inch closer to retirement. On November 15th, Royals Chairman and CEO John Sherman, who purchased the team in 2019, penned an open letter declaring the team’s intention to build a new stadium in or near Kansas City. The team’s lease for the stadium with Jackson County is set to expire in 2030, and Sherman claims the renovations Kauffman requires would cost more than building a new ballpark. He further explained his desire for a new venue, writing, “A new home would be a far better investment, both for the local taxpayer dollars already supporting our facility and for the Kansas City community.”
John Sherman laid out a few criteria for the new ballpark in his letter. He described a wish to build a “world-class experience-a new ballpark district and all that comes with it-one that is woven into the fabric of our city, can host events and concerts, and boosts our local economy.” Sherman wrote further, “We envision local restaurants and shops, office spaces, hotels, and a variety of housing opportunities accessible for Kansas Citians from all walks of life.” Additionally, Sherman called for a funding formula that does not result in an increased cost for Jackson County’s taxpayers. He described the move as “contingent on continuing our public-private partnership and investment with multiple local jurisdictions and the State of Missouri.”
At a projected $2 billion, the construction project is slated to be the most robust public-private development project in the history of the city. The Royals predict the project will create 20,000 construction-related jobs, $1.4 billion in labor income, and $2.8 billion in total economic impact. The club claims the ballpark’s first year of operation will drive $185 million in regional economic impact and will create over $60 million in tax revenue.
Sherman and the Royals announced a listening tour to hear from fans and Kansas Citians regarding the new stadium. Additionally, they have begun to scout sites for the stadium in and around Kansas City. The proposed plan to build a new stadium is far from realization, as it must still go through numerous steps of approval from Kansas City, Jackson County, and the state of Missouri.
This new venture will involve saying farewell to the site of many incredible memories in Kansas City's baseball history. In Kauffman Stadium’s half-century of operation, it has witnessed countless historic moments. In 1973, five weeks after its opening, the ballpark played host to the first of Nolan Ryan’s seven no-hitters when he shutout the home Royals by a score of 3-0. Merely two months later, the ballpark hosted its first All-Star Game. In 1976, the Royals made their first playoff appearance, hosting the New York Yankees at what was then called Royals Stadium. In 1980, the Royals appeared in their first World Series, falling to the Philadelphia Phillies in six games. Five years later, Kauffman Stadium was the site of the Royals’ first World Championship, as they took Game 7 from their in-state rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals.
The 21st century saw Kauffman Stadium undergo its last major renovation that reduced its seating capacity to 37,903 and widened concourses. A team Hall of Fame and conference center were also built on the complex. After that, the park played host to more incredible moments. Kansas City hosted its second All-Star Game in 2012. Fans in Kauffman were greeted with absolute moonshots from Home Run Derby winner Prince Fielder and watched the National League beat the American League 8-0, highlighted by a 1st inning, bases-clearing triple from Pablo Sandoval. Two season later, postseason baseball returned to Kansas City when the Royals hosted the Oakland Athletics in the Wild Card Game. Kansas City won that game with a dramatic eighth-inning rally and advanced to the ALDS. The Royals went on to take the American League Pennant but lost the World Series in 7 games to the San Francisco Giants.
Ready to avenge their heartbreak from a season earlier, the 2015 Royals entered the postseason as the AL’s top seed and were accompanied by lofty expectations. The Houston Astros took the Royals the distance in the series, but Kansas City ultimately prevailed. In six games of ALCS play, the Royals dropped the Toronto Blue Jays to win back-to-back American League Pennants. They went on to dispatch the National League Champion New York Mets in five games to claim the franchise’s second World Championship.
Kauffman Stadium was initially built with an AstroTurf playing surface to avoid rainouts for the sake of fans who drove hours to watch the club. In 1995, the AstroTurf surface was replaced with a live grass surface, bringing the Royals in line with most of the league at the time. Additionally, Kauffman Stadium’s iconic fountains in the outfield have become the enduring and identifying image of the ballpark. The fountain in right field, known as the Water Spectacular, is the world’s largest privately funded fountain. Another iconic feature of the ballpark is its scoreboard topped by a crown.
While the Royals may call Kauffman Stadium home for the next few years, Sherman’s calls to build a new stadium will usher in a new era of baseball in Kansas City. Sherman purchased the team for $1 billion in 2019 and a new stadium would mark a significant achievement of his ownership. A new ballpark in Kansas City will connect the franchise’s retooled roster and new ownership with the history and tradition of one of baseball’s youngest organizations. Beyond Kansas City, a new ballpark for the Royals could usher in a new era of relations between city and state governments and Major League clubs. Proposals that do not raise taxes on individual citizens yet create state-of-the-art ballparks that provide billions in economic benefits have significant impacts on the future of Major League Baseball. Such deals that are favorable to both cities and ball clubs could potentially keep teams in their home sites rather than seeking relocation.