Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Kansas City soccer site a hot election issue

Story updated here.

Who knew approving funding for 24 youth soccer fields could get so heated?

In Johnson County, Kansas, voters are being asked to approve a $75 million bond to build a 142-acre amateur soccer complex. The money will only be spent on "24 lighted “tournament-quality” fields, a community center, a hiking trail and other park amenities" but opponents see it as a loophole to give public money to a private business. The private business they are taking about is none other then the Kansas City Wizards.

The Wizards need a new soccer-specific home, but have indicated that they will only build on the site if the youth fields are approved. To be clear, none of the bond money goes to pay for the Wizards to buy their land or build their stadium or any other part of their proposed plan, but the youth fields are an important part of the Wizards overall stadium plans (which also include an onsite hotel and retail stores and restaurants).

Critics argue that the number of fields is more then are needed, that they will not bring in as much money as proponents say they will and will increase the average homeowner's tax bill by almost $20 a year.

Those in favor of the project argue that the number of top quality fields will provide the area a competitive edge in landing future soccer tournaments, which will bring in a good family environment.

Former Kansas Lt. Gov. Gary Sherrer, who supports the soccer complex says, “We’re talking about families staying in our hotels, eating in our restaurants and shopping in our shops. It’s $75 million for a public park. Anyone who says this is corporate welfare is just not being factual.”

However, the corporate welfare argument might have gain some momentum today when it was revealed that a real estate firm that stands to make $16.8 million off of the youth soccer site had donated $500,000 to the 'Yes on Soccer' campaign.

A partner in the real estate firm said that it was true that his company would make a large sum of money on the fields, however he stressed that they would make more if the land was used for homes instead. Adding that, "this is not a financial gain. This is for the community.”

There have been no good polls on this matter, so who knows how it will end up, but looking at it from a MLS fan perspective one has to wonder what will happen if it fails. The new Wizards ownership has said that they have a plan B, but with any plan probably needing some sort of public approval, it could be another year before they could move forward on any project.

Also, if this measure fails, it might have a ripple effect as other MLS teams look for stadium deals.

By the way, if you look at the image above, the proposed Wizards stadium would go where the little sun image is in the bottom left corner.

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