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Voters reject sales tax for Chiefs, Royals stadium projects

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — In a resounding manner Tuesday, the voters in Jackson County, Mo., rejected to approve an extension of the three-eighths-cent sales tax on a ballot initiative to ensure the Kansas City Royals and Kansas City Chiefs remain in the county for at least the next 25 years.

Before 9 p.m. CT, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas used his X account to announce that the vote didn’t pass.

Less than an hour later, the Royals and Chiefs acknowledged their defeat was by an overwhelming margin. At 10 p.m. CT, 100 percent of the votes were counted — 78,352 voting no (58 percent) and 56,606 voting yes (42 percent).

“We respect the democratic process, we respect the voters of Jackson County and the results of the election,” John Sherman, the Royals’ new owner, said Tuesday night. “We’re deeply disappointed, as we are steadfast in our belief that Jackson County is far better off with the Chiefs and the Royals. This is a belief I both hold professionally and personally, as someone whose roots run deep in this town.

“We will take some time to reflect on and process the outcome and find a path forward that works for the Royals and our fans.”

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For more than two years, Sherman has wanted to build a downtown stadium in Kansas City, one that would ideally be opened by the 2028 season. Leading up to Tuesday’s vote, the Chiefs expressed their commitment to staying in the Truman Sports Complex, which is where the venues for the two teams have been since 1973. The teams are in the middle of sharing a lease that runs through Jan. 31, 2031.

But based on Tuesday’s results, the long-term future of both teams, and where the Royals and Chiefs will host their home games, are unclear.

“The people of Kansas City and Jackson County love the Chiefs and the Royals,” Lucas wrote on his X account. “Today, they rejected plans and processes they found inadequate. Over the months ahead, I look forward to working with the Chiefs and Royals to build a stronger, more open, and collaborative process that will ensure the teams, their events and investments remain in Kansas City for generations to come.”

If the voters had approved the extension of the sales tax, that money would’ve generated about $2 billion, a sizable portion that would’ve helped fund a state-of-the-art baseball stadium and several renovations to Arrowhead Stadium, a 52-year-old structure that will be one of the host sites for the 2026 FIFA World Cup. When the terms of the ballot question were finalized in January, the construction plans the tax would finance weren’t finalized.

This past fall, the Royals announced two potential locations for their ballpark district: One east of downtown and the other in Clay County, Mo., across the Missouri River. The Royals, though, failed to meet their own deadline to finalize their top location. On Feb. 13, The Royals announced a different location for their new stadium — and a possible entertainment district — in the Crossroads district. The Chiefs shared their plans for Arrowhead’s renovations — changes that would enhance suites, video boards and club lounges — on Feb. 28.

Days ahead of the vote, Sherman said the Royals would pledge at least $1 billion from their ownership group for their project. Arrowhead’s projected renovations were expected to cost $800 million. Chiefs team owner Clark Hunt said he and his family would contribute $300 million.

“Our focus and our belief is that the voters are going to approve the extension of the sales tax,” Hunt told The Athletic last week during the NFL owners’ meetings. “We’re not focused on what happens if it doesn’t pass. But certainly, we’ll have to consider all of our alternatives.”

Last month, the Chiefs and Royals reached community benefits agreements with the Jackson County Sports Complex Authority, which included more than $260 million in support and more than $200 million in economic relief for the county by eliminating the obligation to pay stadium insurance premiums and park levy to the teams.

Several leaders in the city and county, however, felt the financial commitments from the Royals and Chiefs weren’t enough. Jackson County executive Frank White, who is in the Royals Hall of Fame, never fully agreed to the proposal. KC Tenants, a tenants’ rights and housing advocacy group that has 10,000 members, also campaigned against the proposal, urging voters to reject the extension by stressing that taxpayers would pay too large of a percentage to help build a new ballpark and further modernize Arrowhead.

“Two billion dollars in taxpayers money, man, could do a hell of a lot to develop our community,” Michael Savwoir, one of the union leaders with KC Tenants, told Kansas City television station Fox4 on Tuesday night. “The billionaires don’t finance my follies. Why should I finance theirs? I think we can all agree it was a pretty shabby job of selling anything, pretty shabby in terms of how it was delivered — the message, the deceit, the strong-arming and the extortion.”

Sherman has said multiple times that the Royals’ last possible season playing inside Kauffman Stadium, which opened in 1973, will be the 2030 season. Prior to Tuesday’s election, Sherman and Clark each said they didn’t have a plan B if the extension of the sales tax wasn’t passed. If the Royals are unable to move to a new downtown stadium before 2030, one possible outcome is that the franchise could leave Kansas City altogether for another market willing to build a new ballpark.

In 2032, the Chiefs could be playing in front of their fans in Kansas, as developers from across the state line have sent the team proposals in the past few years. In those discussions, developers have recommended multiple sites that are attractive for a state-of-the-art NFL stadium and training facility. A logical destination could be in Kansas City, Kan., near the Kansas Speedway and Children’s Mercy Park, the home venue of Sporting Kansas City.

“We’re disappointed,” Chiefs team president Mark Donovan said Tuesday night. “We feel we put forth the best offer for Jackson County. We were ready to extend the longstanding partnership the teams have enjoyed with this county.

“We will do, and look to do, what is in the best interest of our fans and our organization as we move forward.”

Tim Smith, the campaign manager for the Committee Against New Royals stadium Taxes, celebrated the result of the election by praising voters who demand more from the Royals and Chiefs.

“The people all across Jackson County, no matter what their political persuasion was, took a chance to fight Goliath,” Smith told Fox4. “I’m happy to report we slayed Goliath tonight. This is the message to the billionaires that regular people still matter.”

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(Photo: Jamie Squire / Getty Images)

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