K.C. teams express support for new $575 million lease

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Associated Press

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Kansas City Chiefs and the Kansas City Royals signed letters of intent Thursday for new 25-year leases that would require $575 million in renovations to their two stadiums.

Jackson County voters must first approve a three-eighth-cent sales tax to pay for $425 million of the improvements. County officials say they plan to hold a vote on the tax April 4.

The teams would contribute $100 million and cover any cost-overruns, and the Missouri Department of Economic Development said in a letter it would support providing up to $50 million in tax credits.

''What a Christmas present we're getting,'' said Michael Smith, chairman of the Jackson County Sports Complex Authority, which owns the stadiums and leases them back to the two teams.

The list of improvements to the 33-year-old Arrowhead Stadium and the 32-year-old Kaufmann Stadium doesn't include a retractable roof -- for now.

The NFL told Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt last month that it would give Kansas City a Super Bowl if it found a way to protect Arrowhead from the Midwestern winter. Early proposals call for a rolling-style roof that could start at $100 million.

''You need to give us a solid number,'' Smith said. ''I'm not going to the voters with another open-ended contract.''

Under the new leases, which still must be drawn up and signed by Jan. 16, Kaufmann would receive $250 million in repairs and renovations, with the Royals contributing $25 million, the state providing $12.5 million in tax credits and the taxpayers paying $212.5 million.

Arrowhead would receive $325 million in upgrades, requiring $75 million from the Chiefs, $37.5 million from the state in tax credits and $212.5 million from taxpayers.

The new leases would replace agreements now expiring in 2014. The teams have warned that Jackson County, which is way behind on necessary repairs to the two stadiums, could be in default of their leases by the end of next year.

While neither team has threatened to leave the area for another market, that possibility has been a powerful weapon in the public-relations efforts of local officials gathering support for costly repairs.

Last year, voters in five metro Kansas City counties were asked to approve levying a quarter-cent sales tax for at least 12 years, expected to raise up to $1.2 billion. About $360 million would have gone to cover renovations at Kaufmann and Arrowhead, with the teams agreeing to extend their leases with the county through 2030 and kicking in $65 million if the tax passed.

Another $50 million would have gone for a downtown performing arts center and the rest would have paid for local and regional art programs.

The so-called Bistate II measure passed in Jackson County but failed in the other four as voters said they were concerned about the projects' price tags, the lack of specifics for the arts programs and resentment of the teams' owners asking for handouts.

County and sports authority officials acknowledged Thursday that many of those concerns are still out there, especially for Jackson County voters who may object to paying for stadiums frequented by residents throughout the area.

Pat Gray, a Kansas City pollster who worked on the Bistate II campaign, said recent polls show most voters surveyed support repairing the stadiums and keeping the teams in town.

''When we get to the tax issue ... it slips a little bit from a strong majority to a slim majority,'' Gray said. ''This is going to be a tough campaign.''

Smith said the new proposal is different from Bistate II in two key respects: the teams are paying in more for the work -- although it's still about 18 percent of the total cost -- and have agreed to limit the public's exposure if the cost of the projects rise steeply.

Authority attorney Mike White noted that a number of professional sports stadiums built with public assistance in the last few years have gone millions of dollars overbudget, including Safeco Field in Seattle, which is $194 million in the red after originally being pushed as costing $320 million.

Smith also said county officials are negotiating some perks for Jackson County residents, such as discounted parking or tickets.

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