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Miles WolffMiles Wolff, the commissioner and founder of the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball, on Nov. 21 asked the Unified Government Commission to consider the proposal to buy CommunityAmerica Ballpark in Kansas City, Kan. (Staff photo)
Unified Government commissioners heard some support for a plan for the UG to buy the CommunityAmerica Ballpark, the T-Bones baseball stadium in Village West, before they voted unanimously tonight to advance the issue to a public hearing.
The public hearing was set for 7 p.m. Dec. 19 at City Hall, 701 N. 7th. After the public hearing, the commission could vote on the issue.
Miles Wolff, the commissioner and founder of American Association of Independent Professional Baseball, asked the commission to consider the sale of the stadium. He praised the T-Bones and said it was very impressive they draw more than 5,000 fans to a game.
“They’re one of the top teams in minor league baseball,” Wolff said. “We certainly hope you consider the proposal before you.
“Private ownership of baseball stadiums just doesn’t work,” Wolff said. “We’ve only got 50 nights a year to operate and that’s a tough business model.”
Out of 150 minor-league clubs, there are probably only two or three privately owned stadiums, he said.
In Memphis, Tenn., the team was drawing 10,000 fans to games, but private ownership of the 12,000-seat stadium there couldn’t make it although it was drawing a lot of fans, he said.
“The bondholders took over the stadium a couple years ago, and I think within the next month, the city of Memphis will buy the stadium for $25 million because they want to keep the team there and private ownership just hasn’t worked,” he said.
In the American Association, the Fort Worth Cats had a privately owned stadium, and was doing well, but “the bank ended up taking it over,” Wolff said. Now there is no longer a club there, he said.
In St. Paul, Minn., in the American Association, the community is building a new $65 million stadium for the minor-league team. Kansas City, Kan., has the only privately owned stadium in the 11-member American Association, according to Wolff.
Some other communities are excited about using the stadiums for other community events, he said.
Wolff had a lot of praise for the T-Bones, the owners, management and team. “They’ve been so good for the American Association,” he said.
Minor league baseball is family entertainment, he said. Tickets are $6.50, less than the cost of seeing some movies. It’s something that’s fun, great for the community and improves the quality of life, he said.
UG Administrator Dennis Hays said the community’s initiative in bringing the T-Bones here has resulted in affordable family entertainment, enhanced overall tourism in the community resulting in almost $50 million of economic benefit, and also has created a market of the T-Bones being the hometown team for Kansas City, Kan.
While the team itself is doing very well, the structure the community was required to use more than 10 years ago required private ownership, he said. That law has changed now, with state laws later allowing use of the STAR (sales tax revenue) bonds for a stadium.
“There is a clear risk we may lose the T-Bones and end up with a dark, closed stadium. Unfortunately it would resemble what we all know as The Woodlands horse and dog track, that closed some time ago and has become a negative image,” he said.
“The challenge is how to retain a successful minor-league team under a new stadium ownership arrangement, that protects the interest of the taxpayer yet retains the team and all the good economic benefits and the pride that comes from having the T-Bones in our community,” Hays said.
Lew Levin, UG chief financial officer, said the T-Bones continue to be a strong performer in attendance. The team averages over 250,000 attendance a year, ranking among the top.
He said the initial cost of construction of the stadium was more than $15 million. The stadium has sold 870,000 hot dogs and 10 million ounces of beer and cola over a 10-year period.
Located at Village West, with more than 111 businesses and 5,100 employees, and also close to the Cerner complex with more than 5,000 employees, it is in an area with more than 10 million visitors a year. Property tax at Village West is more than $11 million, while state and local sales tax is over $85 million a year, he said.
Village West is a major center of economic activity for Kansas City, Kan., he said.
Levin said direct economic effect is more than $400,000 annually for the T-Bones from various taxes, and direct effect from other factors totaled $2.6 million.
Estimated indirect economic effect was $1.5 million a year. That category might include, for example, people who go to the T-Bones game and then spend money at a restaurant or store nearby. The total effect of both direct and indirect was estimated at $4.5 million on the community, Levin said.
“The current financial model of the stadium is unique, and it’s also unsustainable,” said Doug Bach, deputy UG administrator.
Under consideration is an option to bring the T-Bones into alignment with the current national standard for public ownership, he said. The UG would acquire the stadium using STAR bond authority.
Mayor Mark Holland said the UG has been actively working on this for some time.
“The key piece that I believe is the way we’re handling this process is right, because this is a major policy decision the commission needs to make," he said. "We do not take that decision lightly.” Residents may make comments at the public hearing or they also may send in written or email comments to the UG clerk’s office.
“This is probably one of the most emotional things we’ve crossed in quite a while,” Commissioner Mike Kane said. There might be residents who have strong feelings for or against it.
All the details of the agreement are not yet worked out and are still being negotiated, according to UG officials. However, some basic details are that the UG would pay $8 million to buy the stadium, using STAR bonds that are anticipated to be paid off in 2017.
The UG on Nov. 20 released a feasibility study on the proposed acquisition that says STAR bonds would still be paid off in 2017, estimated in June.
According to this feasibility study, the state would contribute to the STAR bond revenues, making 30 percent of the debt service payments on the proposed stadium bonds, while the remaining 70 percent comes from the local share of sales tax revenues.
The feasibility study concluded that the cash flow of STAR bond revenues would be able to support debt service payments on the older bonds as well as the stadium financing.