© 2024 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Kansas Democratic lawmakers dined with Kansas City Royals on eve of stadium vote

A large, blue digital baseball stadium display reads "Welcome to the City." Next to it is a building with a sign that reads "Bullpen Burgers."
Carlos Moreno
Kansas lawmakers are hoping to lure the Kansas City Chiefs and Royals to the state through government-backed STAR Bonds — providing up to 75% of a professional football or baseball stadium with a minimum $1 billion investment.

LAWRENCE, Kansas — On the eve of a vote that could yield $750 million for a new Kansas City Royals baseball stadium in Kansas, a team executive met with several Democratic state lawmakers at a local steakhouse.

Brooks Sherman, chief operating officer for the Royals, and lobbyists hosted lawmakers at the Six Mile Chop House and Tavern on Monday “to talk about the Royals interest in Kansas,” according to an email from a lobbyist inviting Kansas House and Senate Democrats.

Outside the restaurant, lawmakers said they weren’t concerned about the idea of their votes on legislation worth hundreds of millions of dollars being influenced over dinner.

“It happens,” said Sen. Marci Francisco, a Lawrence Democrat. “Most of the discussions in the legislature go on behind closed doors.”

The meal came the night before lawmakers were expected to vote on whether to expand a state tax incentive program to help finance a new stadium for the Royals or the Kansas City Chiefs to lure the teams from Missouri.

The bill, which was discussed in an informational hearing Monday, would enhance the state’s existing Sales Tax and Revenue (STAR) Bond program to provide up to 75% of the project’s cost for a professional football or baseball stadium project with a minimum $1 billion investment. STAR Bonds are issued to pay for the construction and repaid by the increased state sales tax revenue at the project site.

Normally, STAR Bonds, which are intended to help pay for tourism and entertainment destinations, are only authorized to finance up to 50% of a project. Debt on a stadium constructed under the expansion wouldn’t have to be repaid for 30 years instead of the normal 20.

The project could also receive a boost from liquor taxes generated in the STAR Bond district and revenues from a fund Kansas created when it legalized sports betting.

The Chiefs shut down a city block near the Capitol in Topeka for a rally at the Celtic Fox restaurant at lunchtime Tuesday.

On her way into the restaurant, Francisco said she wasn’t supporting the current bill but would be interested to know whether the Royals would support a standalone deal. She wasn’t sure what level of impact dinners with lobbyists have on lawmakers’ overall support.

Francisco said she was uncomfortable that revenue information from the project would not be released and that there was not enough public testimony on the legislation.

Rep. Jerry Stogsdill, a Democrat from Prairie Village, said it was “par for the course” for lawmakers to get lobbied at evening events. He said he has discussed issues with lobbyists and asked for information but that in his eight years in the Legislature he has never been influenced to change his vote on an issue.

“I don’t think there’s going to be a single person in there tonight that is going to be persuaded to vote against their conscience and against their constituents,” he said.

Stogsdill said he imagined he’d vote for the legislation and thought a stadium would be an economic boon to the community around it.

Sen. Ethan Corson, a fellow Prairie Village Democrat, said didn’t see Kansas’ efforts to help finance one or both stadiums as competing with Missouri. He’d be fine if the teams stayed in Kansas City, Missouri, but he said the Missouri Legislature is “beyond dysfunctional.”

“I worry about their ability to do anything, really,” Corson said, “so I think this is a chance to put something on the table so, that way, we can say we made a reasonable effort to keep the teams in the metro.”

Rep. Linda Featherston, an Overland Park Democrat, said Monday she declined to attend the lobbying event.

“I don’t want there to be any questions about undue influence,” she said.

Rep. Cindy Neighbor, a Shawnee Democrat, attended Monday’s dinner and recounted the sales pitch in a meeting of House Democrats Tuesday morning.

She said the Royals are looking at three potential sites in Wyandotte County where they could build a 34,500-seat stadium. The team, she said, believes its current home, Kauffman Stadium, is crumbling and that repairs would cost at least $800 million. It also doesn’t have enough office space or room for medical personnel.

Royals executives told attendees that most ticket buyers are from Johnson County, Neighbor said, and that the team is not interested in having conversations about staying where they are.

“The Royals do not feel welcome in Kansas City, Missouri, right now,” Neighbor said.

The Royals declined to comment.

This story was originally published by The Missouri Independent, part of the States Newsroom.

Allison Kite is a data reporter for The Missouri Independent and Kansas Reflector, with a focus on the environment and agriculture.
Grace Hills is a summer intern for the Kansas Reflector.
Sherman Smith is a reporter for the Kansas Reflector.