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What happens after a stadium vote loses? It’s happened before in KC, 20 years ago

Kansas City Star
In the run-up to Tuesday vote in Jackson County — whether to extend a 3/8th-cent sales tax to help pay for a new Royals baseball stadium and upgrades to the Chiefs’ Arrowhead Stadium — the teams shared no “Plan B” scenarios.

As in, what if voters were to reject the proposal?

Reject it they did, by a 58% to 42% margin. Royals owner John Sherman and Chiefs president Mark Donovan made statements at Tuesday night’s “Vote Yes” rally inside J. Rieger & Co., and then departed.

Is there a playbook for such a defeat? There is: Twenty years ago, the teams confronted a similar situation..

In the November 2004 election, voters turned down a quarter-cent sales tax that would have raised $1.2 billion for improvements to Kauffman and Arrowhead stadiums.

There are some differences between the two situations, of course. The vote two decades ago was a bi-state initiative that included funding for arts projects as well as stadium improvements.

That measure needed to pass in Jackson County as well as two of the area’s other four counties: Platte, Clay, Wyandotte and Johnson.

It passed in Jackson County, garnering 61% of the vote, but lost in each of the other counties.

Owners of the two teams at the time weren’t sure what would happen next, but leaving the Kansas City metro area apparently wasn’t given strong consideration.

“We’re not going anywhere,” then-Royals owner David Glass said when the measure failed. “Keeping major-league baseball in Kansas City has been my family’s commitment since we bought this club (in 2000).”

Chiefs founder Lamar Hunt spoke of building a new stadium. Instead, the teams simplified their approach.

The teams’ funding request returned to the ballot in April 2006, but this time only in Jackson County — and without the arts projects. The ask was a 3/8th-cent sales tax to raise $425 million over 25 years. The Chiefs kicked in $100 million, the Royals $25 million.

This measure prevailed with 53% approval. But also on the ballot in that election? A $170 million rolling roof. Voters said no to that by a slim margin.

Would that sort of game-plan work — a retooled proposal, brought back to voters — this time around?

On Tuesday evening, Sherman said only that the Royals “would take some time to reflect on and process the outcome, and find a path forward that works for the Royals and our fans.”

Donovan said the Chiefs “put forth the best offer for Jackson County. We were ready to extend the long-standing partnership the teams have enjoyed with this county.”

Kathy Nelson, president of the Kansas City Sports Commission, said she was surprised by the loss. Like other Chiefs and Royals fans, she wonders now about the future of the teams.

“I’m nervous,” Nelson said. “Now what? I heard a comment the next day that they’ll be at the table the next day negotiating.

“I don’t think tomorrow you’ll see negotiating happen. I think what they had to offer was one of the best deals you’ll see.”

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