‘Life changing.’ Kansas City Royals say union labor will build new downtown stadium

Union labor will construct a new downtown stadium for the Kansas City Royals, team officials said at a community meeting Wednesday evening.

At the third public meeting pitching plans to move away from the Truman Sports Complex, team leaders said the new project would be built by union contractors operating under a project labor agreement. Those are collective bargaining agreements that govern wages and other terms of employment between contractors and building trade unions.

“We certainly expect to have a project labor agreement,” said Brooks Sherman, senior vice president and chief operating officer for the Royals. “We’re early stage in thinking about all of this, but that’s certainly expected from us.”

Sherman said the team is looking at the $1.5 billion new terminal Kansas City International Airport plans to open this month as a potential model. Labor and contractors negotiated for some six months before striking a deal on the terms of work around that project.

The Royals say they plan to spend about $2 billion — $1 billion on a new stadium and another $1 billion on an adjacent ballpark district to include restaurants, housing, retail and office space.

Wednesday’s meeting at the Midwest Genealogy Center in Independence marked the final public forum on the new stadium before the Royals head to Arizona for spring training. The team will pursue a public vote to help fund the new stadium as early as August, Sherman said.

The Royals currently lease Kauffman Stadium from Jackson County under an agreement that runs through the end of the 2030 season. Team officials have not yet said how much financial support they will ask of taxpayers for a new ballpark. But CEO John Sherman said the team would not ask any more from Jackson County taxpayers, who currently are paying a three-eights-of-a-cent sales tax as part of a 2006 ballot initiative to fund renovations of both Kauffman and Arrowhead stadiums.

It’s likely that labor unions will aid any public persuasion campaign, particularly if the team sticks to its commitment to hire union crews.

“The proof is in the pudding,” said Bridgette Williams, who leads the Heavy Constructors Association in Kansas City, whose members have built much of the public infrastructure across Kansas and Missouri.

After moderating Wednesday’s event, Williams said she expects the stadium project to create thousands of good-paying jobs for local workers. The group often backs major development projects like the new airport terminal.

“We just want to make sure it is a union job using union contractors who employ union workers,” she said. “This has the potential to be life changing for a lot of people and we’re just trying to gather information like everyone else.”

A rendering, provided by the Royals, of what a new downtown Kansas City ballpark could look like.
A rendering, provided by the Royals, of what a new downtown Kansas City ballpark could look like.

The Royals said as many as 20,000 people could be employed in the construction of the stadium, which is expected to take about three years.

Team officials have not taken any public comments in their three presentations. But they have fielded dozens of questions from the hundreds who attended the three events.

In their first meeting, team leaders committed to crafting a community benefits agreement, commonly used contracts signed between community groups and developers that lay out the ways new development will aid community interests. The agreements can include public benefits like the creation of affordable housing, childcare access or new public spaces and parks.

But it’s unclear what groups will be at the table for such negotiations and the team has not made any specific commitments about community benefits.

“This project is not going to solve all the needs of Kansas City,” said Sharita Hutton, the team’s senior director of communication strategy. “We have problems and we realize that. But the thing that we are committed to doing is making sure that this project is done really well.”

Hutton said the team won’t be able to make specific commitments on issues like affordable housing until a final site is selected.

“A lot of the questions that they have that we understand, we don’t have answers just yet,” she said in reference to local social advocacy groups who have raised questions about or objected to the project. “And it’s really going to depend on the site — that’s going to be the most important thing.”

But local advocates like Terrance Wise want to hear more specifics now.

“I know they haven’t settled on the site, and the list gets narrower every day for them, but they can agree and commit to things regardless of where the new stadium is being built,” said Wise, a Taco Bell employee and a leader with Stand Up KC, an advocacy group of fast-food and other low-wage workers. “Wherever it’s being built, we need affordable housing, we’ll need it to be union built and union run.”

Wise attended all three public events hosted by the Royals and met with team leaders privately about the project. He said he was encouraged by the team’s commitment to using union crews to build the new stadium. But he’d also like assurances that the workers who operate the stadium and accompanying district will be paid a livable wage.

“We’re talking about a massive $2 billion project. So imagine that entertainment district around the stadium, and even inside the stadium being union-made and union run,” he said. “Why would I work at my Taco Bell at $16 an hour, when folks are making a living wage within and around the newly built $2 billion district?”

That’s the kind of move that could help lift wages across the region, he believes.

“That’s the kind of legacy that Sherman can leave,” Wise said, “lifting up folks wherever this stadium is built.”