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The Kansas City Wizards first played in Arrowhead Stadium (home of the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs in Kansas City, Missouri), and created quite the echo chamber with attendance barely in five figures in a stadium holding 80,000. Then in 2007, they moved to a stadium that barely holds five figures, CommunityAmerica Ballpark (home of minor league baseball team the T-Bones in Kansas City, Kansas), an oddly angled fit for soccer and too small for the Wizards.
Finally, they might be on the fast track for their own just-right 18,500 capacity soccer-specific-stadium. We’ve heard this before, of course, with the Hillcrest Road project in south Kansas City, Missouri. In 2007, a new stadium at the Bannister Malls site was approved by the Kansas City council. Then for two years, we didn’t hear much more about any progress towards groundbreaking. The council’s support for the project stalled in the wake of the economic crisis.
But OnGoal, owners of the Wizards, remained committed to a 2011 opening for a new stadium, which the team desperately needs. And finally, this goal does look attainable: just not on Hillcrest Road, or even in Kansas City, Missouri. Instead, a separate $414m redevelopment project near Kansas City Speedway and not far from CommunityAmerica Ballpark in Kansas City, Kansas has actual funding and is being railroaded through with local government support (for anyone unfamiliar with the Midwestern United States, Kansas City is a small city in Kansas and a satellite of the much larger Kansas City in bordering Missouri. I think.)
The reason my money’s on this project coming to fruition is that the stadium is just one half of the larger economically desirable development plan for Village West centred on the activities of local company Cerner Corp, who are in the increasingly lucrative business of providing IT to the healthcare industry. Cerner’s stock has doubled in the past year, and they continue to grow rapidly. In fact, they plan to add over 4,000 jobs at the Village West location in a new 600,000-square-foot office project key to the $414m redevelopment proposal.
Oh, and two of Cerner Corp’s co-founders — Cliff Illig and Neal Patterson — happen to be two of the five investors in OnGoal, the Kansas City Wizard’s ownership group since 2006.
Moreover, public STAR Bonds funding is already available and OnGoal’s real estate developer, Lane4 Properties Group, are applying for their use for the development scheme (existing STAR bond sales tax revenues is running at an impressive $40m a year). With 4,000 new jobs at Cerner tied to the proposal (which would be the largest single job creation program in the history of the county), it’s no wonder Wyandotte County’s Unified Government endorsed the proposal yesterday. Quotes from the Kansas City Star illustrate just how keen local officials are on the project:
In addition to the 4,000 direct new jobs paying an average salary of $54,000, the developer is projecting that 1,900 spin-off jobs would be created by the office campus and 2,400 more jobs to be created by the soccer stadium and amateur sports complex. This would bring the total to more than 8,300.
The estimated annual economic benefit would be more than $500 million, and the new stadium and soccer fields alone would attract 2.5 million visitors annually, according to the developer.
“We’re very excited about the prospect of thousands of new jobs,” said Dennis Hays, Wyandotte County administrator. “The proposed office complex is an integral part of the overall plan for Village West, to bring daytime traffic.”
Hays said county officials supported the STAR bond proposal being proposed by the developer.
“The economic benefit of 8,000 new jobs in our community far outweighs any investment of sales taxes,” he said. “We’ve had discussions with state officials and will continue to work with them on this.”
$202.7 million of the project is earmarked for the Wizards stadium, with a further $47.7 million for an attached soccer field complex, a model that has proved profitable elsewhere in MLS. Along with the public funding, $221 million would come from private financing.
Officials in Kansas City, Missouri are left befuddled as their stadium project was a key part of the entire redevelopment plan for the Bannister Malls area. Some will also question the scale of public funding for the project.
But purely from the perspective of MLS, a new stadium developed by local ownership could revitalise the Wizards — and would obviously stave off continued rumours that the league wanted to move the team elsewhere — and provide a further, much needed bedrock for the league in the Midwest.