Nationally-Renowned Ballpark Author Says Timing Right to Bring Royals Downtown

Paul Goldberger, author of "Ballpark: Baseball in the American City." (Photo from Knopf publishing)

By Kevin Collison

Kansas City was “lucky” 15 years ago not to build a downtown ballpark when the Royals lease was last up, but that’s all changed now, according to Paul Goldberger, author of the new book “Ballpark: Baseball in the American City.”

The Pulitzer Prize-winning architectural critic who wrote for the New York Times, the New Yorker and now Vanity Fair was the keynote speaker at the Downtown Council annual luncheon Thursday.

“Kansas City was hoping the ballpark would jumpstart a whole downtown renewal which probably was too much to expect,” Goldberger told the 1,000 people at the Kay Barnes Ballroom in the Convention Center.

“Baseball can contribute an enormous amount to downtown, but it can rarely do the job of initiating an entire downtown renewal by itself.

“Now however, it is a different time.

“It is a time to consider actually building a downtown ballpark. Kansas City has a downtown that is filled with demand, filled with activity, filled with all the things you need for a ballpark.”

Goldberger’s observations come at pivotal time when the idea of a downtown ballpark is back on the community agenda. John Sherman, the new Royals owner, has expressed support should the right deal come together.

Paul Goldberger’s new book was released last spring.

The Royals lease at Kauffman expires in 2031, which sounds a long ways off, but not when it comes to back timing the several years it will take to assemble land and design a new ballpark should that option be chosen.

Goldberger’s talk reviewed Kansas City’s preeminent role in the sports architecture world and how baseball’s return to downtowns around the country beginning with Camden Yards in Baltimore in 1992 has returned the game to its urban roots.

“The story of our ballparks is the story of our cities,” he said. That is the premise of the book I just wrote.

“We lost touch with that for several decades when we were building almost everything we could in the suburbs to accommodate the automobile.

“Ever since Camden Yards brought baseball back to the city, we now have extraordinary array of great urban ballparks in our own time.”

Truman Sports Complex, which opened in 1973, temporarily gave Kansas City a lead role in reversing what Goldberger referred to as the “concrete doughnut” era of sports facilities following World War II that combined football and baseball.

“It’s one of the only incidents in those years, Dodger Stadium being the other, where the city chose not to give in to wrongheaded fad of creating mixed-use stadiums,” he said. “Kansas City went against the grain and built separate stadiums.”

The pioneering design of Kauffman and Arrowhead by local architect Charles Deaton working with the firm of Kivett & Meyers launched the city’s sports architecture reputation.

It led to the creation of HOK Sports in 1983, now Populous, and several other spinoff firms.

“Kansas City, for all intents and purposes became the nation’s center for sports architecture,” Goldberger said. “Sports architecture is one of Kansas City’s most important exports.”

Paul Goldberger said Camden Yards in Baltimore began the return of baseball to downtown in 1992. (Image from Populous)

But the city has not kept up.

“For all the historical and architectural importance of this (Truman Sports) Complex, it has one significant shortcoming by the standards of today,” he said. “It’s in the wrong place, disconnected from the energy of the city.

“There’s a a strong and vibrant downtown today that continues to strengthen in so many ways, yet you do not have what Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Denver, San Francisco, San Diego, Minneapolis, Houston and Seattle have, which is a recently constructed baseball park as a part of this renewed urban fabric.”

And while the city missed out on the downtown ballpark renaissance of the 1990s and early 2000s, that delay may have worked in its favor.

Goldberger said the latest trend is for downtown ballparks to be built as part of a larger redevelopment plan, reducing the need for public subsidies.

“The key trend is helping to pay for ballparks, not by taking excessive advantage of municipal funding but instead by…allowing the team to support the project in part by allowing it to develop adjacent real estate.”

Paul Goldberger described PNC Park in Pittsburgh as the best ballpark to have been built in the U.S. since 1914. (Image from Populous)

He mentioned Wrigley Field in Chicago, where the team owner is redeveloping its surrounding neighborhood, and Busch Stadium in St. Louis, where the Cardinals have teamed with the Cordish Company to build what’s called Ballpark Village, as examples.

“It’s an idea that makes potential sense in Kansas City,” he said.

“Now, as opposed to 15 years ago, is the right time to build a downtown ballpark because now it’s easy to imagine enough demand to build additional commercial and residential structures around the ballpark to help support it.

“That would allow the ballpark to be a catalyst of development rather than a recipient of municipal welfare.

“So my hope is that you build a ballpark that could be no place in the world but downtown Kansas City. Strengthen the core and use a baseball park to do it.”

In a related matter, Pendulum, a small architectural firm at 1512 Holmes, released what it described as an unsolicited video rendering of how a downtown ballpark might look in the East Village. Pendulum’s background includes experience designing minor league ballparks.

The Downtown Council luncheon also included the recognition of Crossroads legend Suzie Aron with its J. Philip Kirk Jr. Award, its highest honor for people who’ve contributed to the revival of downtown.

In addition to honoring Aron, the event also recognized several people with its annual Urban Heroes award: art patrons Dick and Evelyn Craft Belger; artist Peregrine Honig; Jennifer Lapka, founder of Rightfully Sewn, and historian Bob Hendrick.

(Editor’s note: Beginning in December 2019, CityScene KC has become a paid subscription publication)

Don’t miss any downtown news, sign up for our weekly CityScene KC email review here.


  1. Traffic issues. Parking issues. Not solved. Seems like a bad idea. KC was way ahead of stadium game in the 70s and still are

    • Suburbia is a last century model that needs to die. Societies started with walkable communities. KC still stuck in last century.

    • There is an abundance of parking downtown. The city has more people working downtown every day than what the stadium would hold, so that wouldn’t be an issue. The spring center gets around 20k on a concert, while fairly busy baseball game would have 25-30k. Not a huge difference. The meme of no parking and traffic needs to go.

      • How many blocks would people have to walk? What if it’s a day game? Concerts on game nights? I’ve been to games in downtown Detroit. It is not fun! Perhaps if a several story parking garage or two are integrated into the stadium, the inconvenience factor might go away. But, yeah, parking issues is still a thing. A big thing that isn’t going away.

        • You must walk a decent ways at Kauffman too. Unless you are paying for premium parking, lot F, and even G are quite a hike from the stadium. Several city blocks in fact. When the team is good, lot N is a 10 minute walk. People think that because they don’t see a giant parking lot next to the stadium in the city that there aren’t any places to park. I can see 8 parking garages from my downtown apartment that are hardly used. 80,000 people work downtown every day without issue. Most games will be at 7pm or on weekends, once everyone has left. Kansas Citians are obsessed with parking lots. 80% of parking is unused after 5pm.

        • Also remember, this choice has consequences. This decision is where the stadium will be from year 2032-2082 or longer. Older folks (not saying you are old) need to think about this. I’ve been speaking to people about downtown stadium ideas for years, and when people do not like the idea, its mostly the older generations. Younger people want a more connected world. Its a big reason why we are flocking to the city. We want things in a centralized location, where we can live and work without the need of cars. Tons of us have that goal eventually. I don’t want to be stuck with a poor stadium location in 2055 because people my parents age were scared of parking in 2020.

          • Not sure life will be that way in 10 years. Do quite a bit of urban renewal south of downtown. Maybe build it halfway to Crown Center where there could be room for parking while the new urban residential communities grow around it – if that’s truly where growth will be. Need for parking isn’t going away for quite awhile wherever it’s built.

  2. Build it! People should be able to walk/bike/streetcar/bus to the stadium to see the Royals play. Having the stadium downtown will maximize that capability. Kansas City has a long way to go before it’s feasible for someone to not have their own car, but this is a small step in the right direction.

  3. Where the hell are you supposed to park? This is a bad idea and the expert needs to keep his opinions to himself. What about the new traffic nightmares downtown? If it’s not broke why fix it?

  4. Royals Stadium(The K) is currently one of the best most beautiful parks in the league, remodeled now with rich history. Yes parking too.. guess what its paid for already as well.. Downtown is a great idea for some cities , a pipe dream for KC as reality is the Royals are already where they belong. The pipe dream brought to you by people not serving the Royals but themselves. Staying home is what’s best for the Royals. Take me out to the ball game…

  5. Only if the Royals pay for all of it. There is nothing wrong with what they have. We will not pay for it.

  6. Baseball has weekday day time games that could let out during rush hour. For all the “walkable” talk only a small portion of the city lives close enough and the metro is not dense enough to support city wide light rail. Dallas area which is WAY more dense than us has struggled to get funds and had find cost savings so the lines are not underground downtown like they wanted. The street car extension will be great but don’t see it going much past that and you have 750,000 people in Kansas and they are going to drive downtown. So yes adding 40K people leaving a game while offices are letting out sounds like a nightmare. Plus why waste valuable downtown core land on this, something that gets used, what 50 days a year? Rest the time it just sits. It’s not like Sprint Center that gets booked all year long. Lets find something else.

    • Actually at the very least, it would be used 81 days out of the year…. and I’m sure that they could lure other events to use the facility when not in use by the Royals. Also, this potential stadium would be smaller, and hold closer to 30,000 people. Most of the time, that stadium will never be filled to capacity, although I hope that the Royals can rebuild to a point where they’ll be contending again, so that more people will come out.

      If this can work in other cities, I don’t see why it can’t work here. Obviously, there will be more parking garages that will be built, but don’t forget the potential spinoff of economic development that can take place as well. More Hotels, bars and restaurants, condos. Hell, how many of those fans could just walk to a game from their apartment, and out of towners who could just walk to their hotel? How many fans could just hang out at a bar or restaurant before going home? I don’t believe there’s anything to be afraid of. I think this would be a great thing for downtown.

      • We need more business downtown, that is what we are lacking in big time a recent study came to this conclusion as well. Class A office space to lour large regional and HQ offices for JOBS. We have plenty of living now, not that I’m against more of all of that but if we are going to to a big project lets get us a 50 story office tower on the east side where all those parking lots are, finally add to to skyline. We have not built a major new office tower in 30 years and we have already lost at least a couple thousand jobs including 1000 from Starbucks in the last few years because of it. Once this aspect gets some love I’d be more open to a stadium.

        • The demolition of the former IBM building at 14th and Baltimore is underway for the construction of the new Waddell and Reed building. The planned 25 story Strata Building has just cleared its final hurdle (I believe) to be constructed at 13th and Main, across from the H&R Block building. Another office building is about to be underway at 13th and Wyandotte. I seriously doubt that a 50 story office building will happen anytime soon, but I believe that the whole Starbucks ordeal has at least been a wakeup call for city hall, which I believe they’re trying to push for more office construction.

          • Strata is under 20 stories of actual office, just like what is going up at the IBM site with ten stories of garage. I’m glad those are happening but not the new tower I’m looking for. Barry the garage and add some adjacent and add to the skyline with a proper spec office tower.

            If Oklahoma City can do it, I think we can. All of our peer cites from a business aspect have recent additions to the skyline. We should too.


Comments are closed.