Others eye KC’s prizes


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Jan 22, 2006
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the stadium situation
Others eye KC’s prizes
Cities would line up to woo Chiefs, Royals
The Kansas City Star

Imagine the Portland Royals. Or the Charlotte Royals. What about the Los Angeles Chiefs? Or Anaheim Chiefs?

Those are among the cities that have their eyes on Kansas City’s major-league teams if Jackson County voters do not approve an April 4 sales-tax measure that would help fund renovations at the Truman Sports Complex.

Without the improvements at Arrowhead and Kauffman stadiums, the county is expected to default on the leases in 2007, freeing the Royals and Chiefs to leave town.

Neither the Royals nor the Chiefs have threatened to move from the Kansas City area, but cities such as Charlotte; San Antonio; Las Vegas; Portland, Ore.; and Norfolk, Va., are eager to bring major-league baseball to their communities.

And outgoing NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue last week reiterated his desire to place a team in Los Angeles by the end of the decade. The NFL, in concert with an owner, would build a new stadium on either the site of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum or adjacent to Anaheim’s major-league baseball park, Angel Stadium.

So in a mirror image of how Kansas City is monitoring distressed arena situations in the NBA and NHL in hopes of discreetly attracting a basketball or hockey team to the Sprint Center when it opens in 2007, other cities are whispering about the availability of the Royals and Chiefs for new stadiums they have on their drawing boards.

Portland and Norfolk are so serious about getting a baseball team that they commissioned HOK Sport of Kansas City to design proposed stadiums when they tried attracting the Montreal Expos, who moved to Washington, D.C., in 2005.

San Antonio, Portland and Norfolk have expressed interest in the Florida Marlins, who have received permission from Major League Baseball to relocate if the Marlins are unable to strike a new stadium deal in south Florida, and San Antonio appears to have the inside track.

San Antonio is proposing a $300 million open-air stadium that would include $200 million in public funding if voters extend a current hotel tax that helped build the $200 million AT&T Center.

Meanwhile, Portland and Norfolk even have active organizations dedicated to bringing a big-league team to their communities, much as NHL21 is determined to bring major-league hockey to Kansas City.

“We have always said we are not out to steal any other city’s team, and we don’t wish ill for the Royals or anyone else,” said Steve Kanter, president of the Portland Baseball Group. “But, of course, we would like to be a major-league baseball city and hope to be in position to be a solution if somebody can’t get it fixed in their market and has to move.

“We feel this is the window of opportunity for us.”

Kevin Gray, president of the Greater Kansas City Sports Commission, is keenly aware other cities are ready to pounce on the Royals or the Chiefs.

“The reality is these two Kansas City treasures will be able to leave at the end of the year, and other cities will want to take them from us,” Gray said. “If we lose the teams, we lose a lot more than major-league sports and our pride. Who will make up for the lost millions of dollars in tax revenue when the teams leave for better stadiums in other cities?”

Going after baseball

The Portland/Vancouver, Wash., area, with a metropolitan population of about 2.3 million, is the largest community in the country with just one major-league team, the Portland Trail Blazers of the NBA. Norfolk, which encompasses Virginia Beach, Hampton and Newport News for a metropolitan population of 1.6 million, matches Las Vegas as the largest markets without any major-league franchises.

“Baseball is the best economic model for our area,” said Will Somerindyke Jr., CEO of The Norfolk Baseball Co. “Any opportunity that comes up, if we have any realistic chance, we’re definitely going to pursue it.”

Two years ago, HOK designed a $303 million stadium with a 35,000-to-38,000-seat capacity, including 60 to 70 suites for Norfolk. The site is on city-owned property on the Elizabeth River, next to Harbor Park, the community’s Class AAA baseball stadium that could be expanded to 18,000 seats on an interim basis.

The stadium would be funded primarily through legislation renewed in the last general assembly that captures state taxes derived from the ballpark to pay off stadium debt; and through a hotel and restaurant tax created in 1998 that has accumulated $5 million annually and placed it in escrow. This, of course, does not include revenues from naming rights, suites, concessions and parking.

Portland, thanks to a bill approved by the Oregon legislature, already has a way to secure $150 million worth of stadium funding in the form of income-tax collections from home and visiting players and top management salaries.

Until a new stadium is built, Portland also has a suitable interim facility with its Class AAA stadium, PGE Park, which recently underwent $40 million of renovations, seats 19,000 and with some outfield bleachers could accommodate nearly 25,000. PGE Park is sold out for a Friday exhibition game between the Seattle Mariners and the Portland Beavers, who are the San Diego Padres’ top farm club.

“Baseball has a long tradition in Portland. We were one of the original members of the Pacific Coast League,” said Drew Mahalic, chief executive officer of the Oregon Sports Authority, referring to former league members Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, San Diego and Seattle. “We’re probably the last bastion of the Pacific Coast League that doesn’t have a major-league baseball franchise.

“We’ve taken notice of what’s going on in Kansas City.”

Charlotte, which just prevailed over Kansas City and three other communities in attracting the NASCAR Hall of Fame, plans on building a new stadium for its Class AAA team downtown near the Hall of Fame. But Jerry Reese, a prominent attorney who specializes in commercial real estate, is spearheading an attempt to build a privately financed 38,000-seat, retractable-roof stadium that could not only house a major-league team but also be host to Atlantic Coast Conference and NCAA regionals as well as Final Fours.

Some would say Charlotte, with a metropolitan population of 1.6 million, has enough on its plate with the NFL’s Carolina Panthers, NBA’s Charlotte Bobcats, three Nextel Cup events at Lowe’s Motor Speedway and college basketball, but the city’s Chamber of Commerce estimates its booming area will have 2.2 million by 2015. And the area has a passion for baseball. The Carolinas boast 13 minor-league clubs in organized baseball.

“Charlotte has unlimited potential,” Reese said. “You don’t have a huge city, but North Carolina is the 11th-largest state in population, and you’ve got a lot of smaller towns and 7 million people within 100 miles of Charlotte.”

Seeking an NFL team

San Antonio auditioned as an NFL city by housing the New Orleans Saints last season when the Louisiana Superdome and Saints training facility were damaged by Hurricane Katrina. Although the Saints averaged 62,665 for three regular-season games at the Alamodome, Tagliabue made it clear the NFL was not in interested in bringing the Saints back to San Antonio or putting an expansion team in the nation’s 37th television market, saying, “We’re going to be moving up in market size.”

That, of course, meant Los Angeles, the nation’s second-largest television market, which has been without an NFL franchise since both the Raiders and Rams left following the 1994 season.

Last November, Tagliabue stood on the steps of Los Angeles City Hall between meetings with the mayors of Los Angeles and Anaheim and announced a preliminary agreement on terms to bring a team back to the Coliseum, although he didn’t rule out a team playing in Anaheim.

A progress report on Los Angeles will be discussed at this week’s NFL owners meeting in Orlando, Fla., and Tagliabue said last week that he plans to visit Los Angeles next month in hopes of reaching a decision on where to build the stadium.

“With the television (contract) and collective-bargaining agreement behind us, getting a team or teams back into the Los Angeles area rises right to the top of the list,” Tagliabue said.

To that end, the NFL is down to the final details on lease negotiations with both the officials of the Coliseum, an 83-year-old structure on city-owned land that would be razed and rebuilt; and the Anaheim site.

The league would build a luxurious $600 million stadium. Then the NFL would sell the facility — with all of the lucrative revenue streams, including suites that go for $300,000 — to an owner.

Until a new stadium is built in Los Angeles or Anaheim, a team could play in the 102,000-seat Rose Bowl on an interim basis.

The Chiefs would not be the only candidate to move to Los Angeles. The San Diego Chargers, who spent their inaugural 1960 season in Los Angeles, are unhappy with antiquated, 37-year-old Qualcomm Stadium and have been frustrated in attempts to get a new facility built. Some believe Saints owner Tom Benson, who had one foot out the door before Hurricane Katrina struck, eventually will move his franchise if New Orleans is unable to support the club adequately.

Those in Los Angeles aren’t particular whether it’s the Chiefs, Chargers or an expansion club.

“When you don’t have a team,” said Pat Lynch, general manager of the Coliseum, “any team will do. Just give us a good ownership group and things should be OK.”

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