By Kevin Collison
A $70 million, privately-funded women’s professional soccer stadium planned for the riverfront should spur more intensive residential development and quicken the pace of streetcar expansion.
“I view this more as a gem you build the verticality around,” said Jon Stephens, Port KC president and CEO. “We’re still committed to millions of square feet of mixed use development on the riverfront.”
The owners of the Kansas City National Women’s Soccer League club announced Tuesday they’re planning to build a 11,000-seat stadium on a 7.1-acre site at the east end of riverfront property controlled by Port KC.
“Kansas City is unequivocally the soccer capital of America; facilities are critical, said Chris Long, co-founder and co-owner of the NWSL club said a press conference at the Port KC riverfront offices.
“Everybody here agrees women’s sports is on a massive upswing and to continue that trend world class facilities are paramount. We’re here today with exactly that.”
The new stadium also will feature a restaurant and sports bar at its entrance, and what was described by its architect, Tom Proebstle of Generator Studio, as a “massive” bar and gathering space on its riverfront side.
Both the front-entrance sports bar and the riverfront establishments will be open year-round to the public, he said.
Generator prepared an animated flyover rendering of the project you can view here.
And in a shift from how other metro professional sports facilities have been financed in the past with substantial public financing help, the stadium will be privately funded and is expected to yield millions in future property tax revenues.
The land is controlled by Port KC and pays no property taxes currently. It will be leased on a long-term basis to the NWSL club owners.
“They’re building the infrastructure and stadium and the property taxes will be set at the anticipated full vertical construction value by the county,” Stephens said.
Long said his investment experience will be an asset in putting together the private financing for the stadium.
“Our other day job is a firm called Palmer Square Capital Management,” he said. “What we do is invest and finance it so we have a leg up relative to most of our other peers in this equation.”
Stephens added the owners of the new facility, which is anticipated to open in 2024, will also contribute to the maintenance and operation of the streetcar and Berkley Riverfront Park.
Current plans call for a streetcar extension to just west of Berkley Riverfront Park will be completed in early 2025. The Port KC board approved its funding agreement for the project Monday.
Angie Long, who with her husband is also a co-founder and co-owner of the team, said the riverfront proved an ideal location. She said planning for the project began last winter.
“It was really important for us to be on the riverfront, in the heart of the city where Kansas City was born and where all parts of this region come together,” she said.
“Another key consideration is the streetcar, downtown and what this location means to the experience, to the fans and what the fans mean to the experice of the players.
“It’s going to be a dream place to play.”
Stephens said the new soccer stadium also should quicken the pace of a planned future streetcar extension to the east end of the park near the Casino KC.
The new transit options will make the planned soccer stadium the most connected with multi-modal transportation.
“We obviously explored differentplaces within Kansas City with the vision this team needs a stadium, it needs to be right sized and then you think about the location that creates the best experience,” Angie Long said.
“And public transportation is a big part of creating the experience. We’ve been focused on this site a long time.”
For people arriving by car, temporary parking with 2,000 spaces will be provided on Parcels 4, 5 and 6 controlled by Port KC. Stephens said as future development occurs, parking for events at the stadium will be included in the projects.
“As a sports fan and a father, I am so proud that Kansas City will make history in having a world-class facility dedicated to women in sport and that the project will be a centerpiece of our beautiful riverfront redevelopment,” Mayor Quinton Lucas said in a statement.
Primary design and construction partners include Kansas City-based Generator Studio, JE Dunn and Monarch Build, according to a press release.
The riverfront stadium announcement follows previously released plans for a privately funded $15-million training facility in Riverside, according to the release. At one point, KC NSWL also had been considering that training facility for the riverfront.
The team plans to play home matches during the 2022 season at Children’s Mercy Park in
Kansas City, Kan. Kansas City NWSL is nearing the end of its Inaugural Season of play and will be in action for its final match at Legends Field on Saturday.
Stephens acknowledged the soccer stadium will occupy a substantial amount of riverfront land available for redevelopment, but observed it’s not expected to be dormant when the women’s soccer team is not playing.
“It’s being developed and funded for the women’s soccer team but it will be used year round for events,” he said.
Concerts and other sporting events are anticipated for the facility. It also will feature significant food and beverage offerings.
“Kansas City was born right here at the river,” Stephens said. “We then turned our back on this very river and for decades we ignored it and it became a literal dumping ground. Kemper Arena, when the roof collapsed, the debris was dumped on our riverfront.
“However in a few short years we finally turned the corner and refocused the attention of our entire community back on the riverfront.”
On a larger scale, Stephens said the new stadium will step up other investments in the riverfront, which in recent years has attracted two major, but suburban-style apartment projects rising four- to five stories.
That could change soon.
Officials with Lux Living say they are in negotiations with Port KC for a mid-rise, 250-unit apartment project on the west side of Berkley Riverfront Park and other larger developments are expected.
“It’s almost a necessity that future development needs to be more vertical and dense,” Stephens said.
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