View Full Version : DAWES: Arrowhead/Kauffman Represent KC's True Sports Heritage

10-30-2004, 03:57 PM
DAWES: Arrowhead/Kauffman Represent KC's True Sports Heritage
Oct 29, 2004, 5:55:07 AM by Media Watch by Rufus Dawes

Next Tuesday, voters from five counties in the Kansas City metro area will vote on a measure that will ensure or not the future of the stadiums included in the Truman Sports Complex. One of the arguments against passage of what is known as Bi-state II is the idea that a better alternative is the construction of a downtown baseball stadium.

Some months ago, the Johnson County Sun’s Steve Rose noted that the idea of a downtown stadium was a foolish one if for no other reason than the people who would have to pay for it don’t want it. In recent weeks, responses gleaned from an unscientific poll conducted by the Kansas City Star gave clearer evidence that the idea is of even less interest to voters than some would lead us to believe.

Indeed, the notion that a downtown baseball stadium is the better way to go than fixing up and maintaining the Truman Sports Complex is an idea fueled largely by local sports media who bring little in the way of voter preference and a history of their area when forming their opinions.

One of the more striking things about the lure of this thinking besides a lack of knowledge of voters is a lack of historical perspective. How did the many new downtown stadiums come to be located where they are and why would a downtown stadium not re-energize the lagging Kansas City urban core?

The history of downtown ballparks

The country’s original ballparks constructed in the early decades of the 20th century were built in urban centers first and foremost because that’s where the people lived and because of public transportation. Proximity to streetcar lines had the greatest influence on the location of the ballparks because they permitted working people to go there from their workplaces and nearby homes.

For working people who lived in the city’s neighborhoods or for the clerks and businessmen who came to afternoon games, the ballparks were little more than a brief trip by trolley and maybe a short walk. For those who worked the various shifts in industry, afternoon games provided a respite from the drudgery of the workplace and the tight quarters in which they lived.

The city’s well-to-do still lived downtown when these parks started appearing in America’s largest cities. As those with the larger incomes moved out of the city and its noise and dirt and settled in more recently built and more distant residences, the less affluent who could not afford the best housing and who were forced to live near their jobs, took over the older areas and the neighborhoods changed.

As rapid transit improved with elevated trains and subways, the fans living further out of town were afforded fast and inexpensive transport to games. Inhabited by workers in the industries located in the older part of the cities, the neighborhoods around the stadiums began to take on a blue-collar look. As time passed and these people began to vacate to suburban areas, the neighborhoods changed again. When night baseball came in 1935, the downtown areas were far different from what they had been when the original team owners built their stadiums as enduring civic monuments expected to last an eternity.

The modern day lure of a downtown ballpark

It is in this context, therefore, that we must examine the lure of a downtown stadium in Kansas City. What is the state of Kansas City’s downtown core now? How many people live there and work there? There has been a recent explosion of condominium projects downtown but the number of units sold is as of this date pure speculation. Moreover, would these residents be inclined to attend baseball games? Would others join them for night games commuting from the outer edges of the city?

According to Mr. Rose’s observations during Johnson County focus group studies conducted to determine the interest in a downtown stadium, “citizens say they go downtown only once a year….and many residents from Olathe and surrounding areas (the fastest growing part of Johnson County) have never even been downtown.” With limited parking, poor access to thruways, and few if any public transportation options, the trip downtown is not an appealing one. According to sources familiar with public transportation to Chiefs games, the number of people traveling to games at Arrowhead has never represented anything more than a miniscule percentage of a game’s total audience.

Meanwhile, unlike Kansas City, mass transportation is a way of life in Baltimore, Philadelphia, Chicago, New York, Cleveland and Pittsburgh. Five of these cities sport relatively new stadiums. In an editorial in the Kansas City Star in 2002, Miriam Pepper, editorial page editor, wrote of the disappearance of the city’s Downtowner Shuttle. The shuttle provided transport for people who lived or worked downtown and wanted to get around without the hassle of driving and parking. She lamented that the “busses are sadly empty” and “the crowds are still missing and the ridership doesn’t come close to covering the cost.” (May 26, 2002) Would Kansas City metro area dwellers consider using public transportation if a new ballpark was located downtown? From what we know now, that is unlikely.

All the original ballparks in the cities just mentioned were operating well into the 1950s. Like the industries and the neighborhoods surrounding them, they deteriorated and most were torn down except for a few which are facing extinction now. The stadiums that replaced them in Chicago, Cleveland and Pittsburgh were built in close proximity to the old stadiums in many cases because transportation options were still plentiful since parking wasn’t, or only after business and shopping revitalization had taken place. Baltimore’s Inner Harbor shopping district was there long before Camden Yards. Pittsburgh’s new stadium was build along an already rejuvenated waterfront. Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies, added spice to Denver’s already blooming LoDo district. Kansas City doesn’t have such a heritage either as it applies to its sports stadiums or public transportation. Old Municipal Stadium was never located downtown.

Sports used to be a retreat from urban life. That’s not the case in Kansas City. It never was. When the Truman Sports Complex was built it was considered well before its time. It included two stadiums, one for football and one for baseball. Its parking lots even in 1972 when the stadiums opened were the largest in the nation and years later remain so. Its easy access in and out of the stadiums on major highways provided fans living in the five-county region a quick trip home. The Truman Sports Complex, whatever you may think of it now, is Kansas City’s heritage.

For it to endure, vote yes on County Question 1.

Portions appeared in earlier columns of April 12, 2004 and June 6, 2002

10-30-2004, 04:10 PM
Hard to disagree with Dawes on this one. These are all the criticisms I have made of the idea of a downtown ballpark in KC.

10-30-2004, 04:43 PM
Hard to disagree with Dawes on this one. These are all the criticisms I have made of the idea of a downtown ballpark in KC.

Yeah its not like they have a Gas Lamp District or anything. They have the Plaza and Westport which is also away from downtown.