UG makes deal with T-Bones

The Unified Government Commission met Thursday night to discuss a new agreement with the T-Bones. (Photo by William Crum)

The Unified Government Commission saved the T-Bones baseball stadium once before, in 2014, and on Thursday night, another lifeline was thrown their way.

UG commissioners mostly viewed the T-Bones as an essential part of the Village West picture, and approved a new agreement with them on Thursday night.

It will change from a lease to a management agreement. The deal is a restructuring; the UG would pay 55 percent of the T-Bones’ utility bills; and the UG will not be liable to pay $246,000 annually in property taxes, according to officials.

Jon Stephens, UG interim director of economic development, said the direct and indirect economic impact of the T-Bones is $4.2 million a year. However, attendance at the T-Bones games has declined in recent years.

“We view it as an integral part of the Village West development, as part of the No. 1 tourist attraction in the state of Kansas,” Stephens said.

The vote was 8-1 approving the deal with the T-Bones, with Commissioner Mike Kane voting no.

In May, the Board of Public Utilities voted not to waive $172,700 of the T-Bones’ overdue utility bill of $314,000. The BPU also voted unanimously in May not to give the T-Bones a special reduced rate for electricity and water. (See earlier story at http://wyandottedaily.com/bpu-says-it-wont-waive-t-bones-utility-payments/)

T-Bones are a regional tourism draw

During a public comment period, Bill Hurrelbrink, formerly the mayor’s spokesman, said the T-Bones were a great partner for the community, and the T-Bones are a great draw for the community. The economic impact of $4 million to the community is substantial, he said. It draws in people from a regional area of Topeka, Independence, Omaha, and Arkansas, he said. They spend money not only at the ballpark but also at Village West, he said.

In the last several years, the T-Bones have helped build ADA playgrounds across the community with the parks foundation, and have partnered with youth groups and other organizations, he added.

Lee Irvin said the T-Bones are an integral part of the Village West and Legends tourist attraction from a regional perspective.

“Where can you go to get this level of entertainment at an affordable price? It’s an amazing family venue that you can’t get anywhere else in the region,” he said.

He said it is good business because it is a $4 million economic impact against a $150,000 annual investment, with a business with a 15-year track record. It is especially good because there is substantial property tax savings.

An Olathe woman who is from Wyandotte County and works here said she was proud to have the T-Bones here. Some people with lower incomes can go out there and enjoy entertainment. While they can’t afford to go to the Royals, they can afford the T-Bones, she said.

“I can’t imagine the UG not supporting this type of business, because it’s a perfect business model for Wyandotte County, a perfect price point, a perfect area,” she said.

Lisa Thurlow of Overland Park, who was originally from the Turner area of Kansas City, Kansas, talked about the opportunities for youth who work at the stadium during the summer, and said she hoped there will still be an opportunity for kids to work there.

Matt Watkins of Kansas City, Kansas, said Adam Ehlert, owner of the T-Bones, has done a lot of work in the community during the past 15 years. He said it would be a shame if the UG did not support him in this endeavor, especially since he does a lot of work for the parks and the community.

Cheryl Reitmeyer of Kansas City, Kansas, a season ticket holder, said she has been a volunteer host family coordinator for three years for the T-Bones.

“How proud we are that we have professional baseball that’s affordable family fun here in Wyandotte County,” she said. “I can’t imagine that we would let that leave this county. What that does bring to the county is amazing.”

She believes the stands are filling up more this year with the extra marketing efforts.

Eric Martinez, who said he bought his first home in Wyandotte County, said one of the reasons he moved to the area was because he liked baseball.

“I want to do whatever I can to support Wyandotte County,” he said. He likes the T-Bones because it’s affordable, walkable, and one can bring one’s friends there.

The economic component is strongly in favor of Wyandotte County residents, as T-Bones games bring people into the community to stay at hotels, shop and eat at restaurants, he said.

‘Not fair to all citizens’

Jeff Bryant, BPU board vice president, said he was appearing as an individual in opposition to the deal.

“We enjoy the baseball game,” he said. “Like any other business, it needs to stand on its own.”

He doubted if the UG would help out many other businesses that may be having trouble.

The new agreement shows the UG is paying 55 percent of the utility bill. “The UG is not paying 55 percent, the residents of Wyandotte County are paying 55 percent,” he said.

Taxes already are high, and this helps support a for-profit business, he said.

“I don’t believe that is fair to all the citizens of our county,” Bryant said. Many license plates in their parking lot are not from Wyandotte County; therefore, Wyandotte County is subsidizing the entertainment for other counties, he added.

He believes the past due bill should be paid 100 percent, he said.

Marcia Rupp of Kansas City, Kansas, suggested turning the field from a baseball field in the summer into a football field in the winter.

“If we could somehow find a minor league football team, or the soccer was playing there for a while,” she said. “If we could find something to do in the winter ….”

Other professional stadiums do that, she said. “Something could be used all year and maybe bring in a little more revenue,” Rupp said.

Mayor: Why not ‘offer the best deal?’

Mayor Mark Holland said his thoughts were why not offer their best deal to their best partners. In 15 years, the T-Bones have brought in 3 million people, he said. Other cities have spent more on teams; for example, Jackson County, Mo., gave almost $6 million to the Chiefs and Royals, Holland said.

The UG has given a 30-year abatement to NASCAR, and $150 million in STAR bonds to the soccer stadium, he said.

“We have been in the public sports business in Wyandotte County, and it has paid huge dividends,” Holland said. All the STAR bonds paid off early, and the community is seeing the benefits of it, he added.

“We’re the No. 1 tourist attraction in the state and in the region,” Holland said. There are more than 10 million visitors outside a 50-mile radius, he added, with the T-Bones a big part of it.

The T-Bones were one of the first investors, when there was little at Village West, he said. Without their initial investment, Village West wouldn’t be where it is now.

Holland said he was comfortable with the level of incentive, because the investment yielding a $4 million plus return annually with an ancillary benefit from the T-Bones was worth the investment. He said it was a good investment and would bear a positive return.

Commissioner Brian McKiernan said it is a small business. He disagreed with the word “bailout,” and he said it was an “investment.”

“We are investing in an amenity that improves the quality of life for our citizens,” McKiernan said.

Markley: No option that would allow UG to pay zero dollars

Commissioner Angela Markley said although she didn’t support buying the baseball stadium, now they had to face reality.

“If we say no to this deal, we still have to pay taxes on a stadium we own, we still have to pay Legends common area fees, and parking lot fees, and some level of maintenance for a facility that is in our shining star tourist area,” Markley said. “The two options are we’re going to spend tax dollars on a stadium, or we’re going to spend tax dollars on a stadium that has an operation ready in a stadium, and that operation is going to pay part of those costs. There is no option that results in us paying zero dollars, because we own this facility.”

Commissioner Melissa Bynum said one of the things she has always appreciated about the T-Bones was its affordability. In answer to her question, UG officials said there would still be sales tax collected at the stadium.

Commissioner Hal Walker said the T-Bones had been a great amenity for the community.

“It’s the role of government, and I include the BPU, to do everything we can to make this community a livable, likable place,” Walker said.

“I think this is an excellent deal. It’s between keeping them or losing them, and I want to keep them around for a while longer,” he said.

Commissioner Jane Philbrook said she didn’t mind paying taxes to support a group of people so dedicated to bringing something to the community that kids and families could enjoy, that is affordable and helps create a bond in a family.

History of the deal

The UG took over ownership of CommunityAmerica Ballpark, where the T-Bones play, in 2014, Stephens said. The T-Bones are now a tenant, leasing the stadium.

In June of 2016 a demand letter was sent to the T-Bones, and they responded their income was not sufficient to meet the current lease obligations, he said. The UG then paid $125,000 in September of 2016 for the obligations related to property taxes on the parking lot, and The Legends common area and maintenance (CAM) charges, he said.

The UG used $5.5 million in STAR bonds when it purchased the T-Bones stadium in 2014, and the bonds were paid off in December of 2016, so there is no debt now on the stadium itself, he said.

Independent auditors determined that the declines in attendance correlated with the revenue projections, Stephens said. The sales and travel expenses are consistent with the size and type of team, he said. Reviews of financial transactions showed the T-Bones practiced proper financial controls, he said.

Stephens said staff compared 11 publicly owned baseball teams, and several were consistent with the T-Bones, some others did not require teams to pay the utilities, and most included provisions for revenue-sharing arrangements.

Details of the deal

The UG is moving from a lease agreement to a management agreement, he said. The T-Bones will be named as manager of the facility. The UG and T-Bones will be trying to change the tax status on the stadium, and if granted, the UG will not be liable for $246,000 in property taxes annually for the stadium, he said. Also, the T-Bones will not pay an annualized lease payment to the UG, he said.

The new agreement would change the term from 20 years, ending in 2034, to a six-year agreement ending in 2022, Stephens said.

The UG would be responsible for the Legends parking lot property tax, about $119,000 a year, and the CAM charges at about $25,000 a year, he said.

Under the new agreement, the Board of Public Utilities’ bills would be put in the UG’s name for bills beginning in June 2017, he said. There are also UG utility bills for the stadium to be put in the UG’s name. Under the agreement, the T-Bones would pay the UG a discounted rate of the total bill, estimated to be 45 percent of the total bill, he said. The electric rate would be set at 6.5 cents per kilowatt hour, with the water rate at $1.77 per CCF, he said.

The UG would pay the remaining cost of the utility bill of the stadium, which is estimated at 55 percent of the bill, he said.

The T-Bones would agree to pay past due bills over four years at $20,000 per year, he said. The unpaid UG sewer and stormwater bills would be paid at $3,000, which is reduced from the $6,000 amount owed.

The T-Bones should be able to cover the outlined costs, since the contract used actual performance numbers, he said.

Also, he said the T-Bones will be required to obtain a surety bond of $135,000, which will include the annual utilities estimate with sales taxes and payment in lieu of taxes fee of $115,000; and one-fourth of other obligations paid by the UG, estimated at $20,000.

Stephens said the T-Bones have made efforts to improve attendance and revenue, including improved sales efforts, group ticket sales, increased promotions, and increased corporate sales.

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17 comments

  1. H. Church says:

    As much as I have enjoyed attending several T-Bones games, I still do not believe that we should subsidize the T-Bones in this manner. Even though they may be a very good minor league team, financial support of this nature (“funded by the UG”… which means our individual local taxes), this should not be allowed without an appropriate public referendum via public vote.

    Granted, a stadium without a team might prove detrimental to our projected/perceived status as a “big league” city / tourist destination, but at what personal cost to the individual resident taxpayer? We’re expected to accept the costs of property taxes on the stadium, parking lot AND also pay 55% of the on-going BPU bills for the T-Bones?

    “Other cities have spent more on teams?”

    Other cities have a more robust tax base and higher per capita incomes… not to mention outlandish parking fees. With our recent, average 9% increase in property assessments… adding these additional subsidy costs to the budget will undoubtedly increase our tax bills even more when those tax bills arrive this fall. Again, also not taking into consideration the possibility of individual increases that may result on our BPU bills, to offset this subsidy / rate reduction for the T-Bones.

    Now tell me that my taxes and my BPU rates will not go up as a result of this. When do we begin to realize “actual” substantially reduced taxation as a result of these “wonderful things” that are supposedly adding dollars to our community? Asking (telling), us to pay for these things that will “benefit us in the future”, while all the while increasing our tax burden… without providing the right of democratic opportunity for our vote on the matter?

    UG Commissioner Mike Kane and BPU Vice President Jeff Bryant deserve commendations for standing up for the taxpayers. Conversely, politicians elected upon the platform of initially having their constituent’s best interests in mind, should be ashamed of themselves for this charade.

    Representing the will(s) of your constituents? I think not.

    I’ll not be voting for anyone that has supported this deal or any “career” politicians running in the upcoming election. Remember Indian Springs and the bargain basement $750,000 deal for Lane4 Developers? How long before the UG attempts to sell the stadium to some other investor for a greatly reduced price, after it’s been subsidized by the taxpayers and for how long?

    Community America Credit Union (which has the naming rights) has recently signed with the Kansas City Chiefs for promotions. Will it still be “Community America” ballpark after this fall?

    The Unified Government may have “saved the T-Bones stadium” again, but at what actual cost to us?

    • Dave Alexander says:

      The T-Bones are a major part of the STAR-Bond payouts which helped fund the first property tax reduction in years. If an elected official doesn’t understand that then they are the ones who should be voted out.

      I want the city to continue reducing property taxes but I know they need the revenue to do that.

      I’m convinced that the good old boy politicians and old school Wyandotte institutions like the B.P.U. just don’t understand economic development. All of the arguments against this deal are unbelievably short-sighted. I’m glad we have some forward thinking leadership in this county. We’d be doomed to pre-unification levels of stagnation without it.

    • John Campbell says:

      You keep asking what the cost to taxpayers will be as if that in itself is an argument. We already know how much it would have cost us without the deal. $4 million. So how much is it going to cost taxpayers?

      As BPU members, the only opponents of the deal are in a direct position to answer that question but chose not to. My thinking is that’s because they know the T-Bones bring in more revenue for Wyandotte Countians than they are giving up in this agreement.

  2. David Alvey says:

    A few simple questions: If Mayor Holland considers the T-Bones one of our “Best Partners”, then what does he consider UG residents who actually pay their UG taxes and BPU bills in full and on time? Are we not “better” than the “best”? If the T-Bones team deserves our “best deal”, then what do we deserve?

    A business thrives when it serves the needs of its customers; in doing so it earns a profit. With this deal, however, we citizens are serving the needs of a business. As a taxpayer, I protest.

    Since subsidizing a failing business at taxpayer expense is now proposed as a good idea, perhaps we should recruit other failing businesses to KCK and subsidize them as well.

    By the way, just what do other businesses or UG residents need to do to become a “best partner”? Is there a link on the UG website where we can apply?

    Regrettably, this action is just one more example of the misuse of taxpayer funds by Mayor Holland. How do we subsidize the T-Bones with UG funds, but at the same time direct UG departments to cut necessary services to citizens by 2.5% because the UG has insufficient revenues?

    Yikes!

    • K.W. Snyder says:

      Misuse of funds? OK, how much of BPU rate-payer funds did the BPU Board of Directors (with you voting “yes”) misuse with the ridiculous new logo and slogan — “The Power of Community”? I can offer up another example of an expense that BPU paid out that was a complete waste of funds if needed.

      Before you start hurling accusations at another politician you better make sure your own position is above reproach.

    • Mary Reilly says:

      A politician lashing out on social media? Sounds familiar.

    • Dave Alexander says:

      You’re an intelligent man Mr. Alvey, but I have to say I am unnerved that, as someone running for mayor, you don’t seem to understand the basics of this deal. Without it we lose four million dollars in revenue. All of the problems you listed require one thing for a solution; revenue.

      How does creating an empty baseball stadium create more than four million in revenue? How would you create more than four million in revenue as mayor?

      I think Wyandotte county is in a much better place in the last 15 years but it still requires thoughtful leadership. To keep moving forward we need more than one dimensional thinking and snarky comments.

      • Phil Thomas says:

        Let them fail. The T-Bones rode a wave of a trend of minor league teams with folksy names and a carnival promotion style. When the Legends was still in its youth some people came in from Minnesota and sold the UG on T-Bones.
        1. The Bones promised all kinds of stuff that never happened.
        2. Their original league (The Northern League) went belly up in 2010.
        3. Metro Pro Wrestling in the old gym in Turner has more accomplished people in their field than the Bones.
        4. The Bones facility would be relatively easy to tear down.

        • H. Church says:

          Phil Thomas,
          Are you proposing that we’d be better off, if we just bulldozed that stadium… made money from recycling those building materials, cut the costs and burdens placed upon the taxpayer to continue supporting that stadium, the team and their utilities… and possibly opened up that portion of real estate for other possible commercial development and thereby and thusly, avoid the downward spiral drain on the community that the Indian Springs debacle has provided?

          And what of this Metro Pro Wrestling? Possibly a change of venue to the downtown Memorial Hall along with the Roller Derby team to provide incentive and income for the city’s core in a venue that we just paid to have the roof repaired?

          Are you crazy? (Bulldog Bob Brown, Handsome Harley Race and memories of the old KCK come to mind.) And you say that the T-Bones are not a Minor League baseball team but more of a “Carnival League” with no path for its players to the Big Show?

          Egads, man. Say it ain’t so Joe.

  3. John fotovich says:

    If they can’t pay their bills like everyone else in Wyandotte county, shut them down and sell that park and try to reduce real estate taxes for residents in Wyandotte county. You will never ever prosper by keep throwing hard earned taxpayers dollars at it.

  4. Mike kansasrider@hotmail.com says:

    Inevitably, the T-Bones will fail. It’s already proven, the UG needs to just realize this error in judgement and move on. There is no reason for the taxpayers of Wyandotte County to incur additional debt due to poor decisions by our elected officials. The UG bought the ballpark some years back, which a large percentage of residents were unaware and this failed to help. I pay well over $7k a year in property taxes alone, we also pay 10+ percent sales tax throughout our great city and we have all of these new businesses out west. Let me ask a question that every taxpayer in Wyandotte County should ask……What do I get for $7000.00 a year?

  5. Janet ruby says:

    If the UG can decide to pay the T-Bones bills then they can start paying those bogus PILOT fees on our BPU bills that they have been gouging us with for years. They can also remove all the other city fees from our BPU bills, these are taxes, and I can’t believe that legally the city officials have gotten away with putting these taxes as fees on our bills instead of on the property tax where they should be. They like to say taxes haven’t gone up that much, but if you add in the $500 a year they stick on the utility bill, you will see they are much higher.

    • SHARILYN K HARTWELL says:

      Exactly, that is how they do the taxes…they now just think changing the terms is okay…fees are basically the same thing as taxes…it is still money they are taking from us residents. Period.

  6. Travis Singleton says:

    Kansas City has a rich history with the game of baseball. It would seem in the best interest of Wyandotte County leadership to take advantage. Leaders partnering with other cities and administrations to draw business to the T-Bones. The Royals do a great job with using local, leveraging business partners to draw folks to the ball park. If they allow the T-Bones to fail and not keep pro ball as a tourist attraction…an indication of things to come. Which seems to be the way the leadership in Wyandotte has been regulated. Negro Baseball museum, rich history and recent success with the KC Royals, T-Bones should be a main draw in the village with vendors to help boost profits so the club can stabilize and stand.

  7. H. Church says:

    Interesting to note how quickly this topic devolved into a babelesque cacophony, with some respondents attempting to “shoot the messenger”, misplace true responsibility, threaten a return to “darker days” and reference a rather vague, “4 million dollar” loss… if the T-Bones were not bailed out in this manner.

    “Too big to fail” all over again. Balderdash! The notion that “a rising tide raises all boats” is a wonderful ethereal notion… especially for those that do not have, or cannot afford a boat.

    If you want to support the T-Bones, then dig into your own wallets and do so voluntarily. (Stay out of mine.) Have fund raisers, buy a piece of the team. Do not expect everyone else to do so via the actions of the Unified Government and more taxes and fees without a public vote on the matter.

    If someone had told me that the day would come when I would be defending the actions of the BPU, I would have dismissed them as “insane”. However, the facts are that we will all most likely be shouldered with an increased tax burden AND a BPU rate increase, as a partial result of this “Unified Government” T-Bone subsidy. And, given the fact that “we the people” were not afforded the the basic option to exercise the fundamental rights of a democracy in determining this bail-out per public referendum … we shall undoubtedly be taxed and charged more, without having any say in the matter.

    Quite an effective feint, when considering that these increases will be incrementally spread out across our population. We’re already going to endure a tax burden increase as a direct result from someone that was supposed to have also had our “best interests in mind” (The Honorable Governor Sam Brownback), coupled with that 9% increase in property assessments. So, what’s just “a little bit more” for the T-Bones? Pay up or we’ll take the T-Bones away… along with the “reported” 4 million dollars that we as taxpayers never realized any tax relief from anyway… and our taxes and utility rates will still increase. It needs to stop.

    The UG will blame the BPU and the BPU will blame the UG and in the end we’ll all pay. Ownership, (public and or private), of the BPU and the relationship/effects of the UG to charge PILOT fees and other charges are always a bit “murky”. I’ve still yet to receive a determination from the UG’s legal department concerning a basic math error and resultant overcharge on my BPU Water Pollution Abatement fees. And, it’s very clearly outlined in the municipal code just how the UG is correctly to arrive at that fee average.

    My hat is off to David Alvey, John Fotovich, Mike (kansasrider), and Janet Ruby for bringing these comments back to where they needed to be and into proper perspective. Thanks to Jeff Bryant and Mike Kane as well. Also, has it not been reported that the Star Bonds were repaid in December of 2016? (No more revenue stream there… and whose money funded those bonds in the first place?) I’m evidently too stupid, short-sighted or simple-minded to realize that paying more is good for me and everyone else in the community. Check your own property taxes later this year and maybe think about those who may already be just barely scraping by… and those who no longer can.

    But, considering the recent good news that KCK is now the top “safest city” to drive in… we’ll all certainly get a reduction in our insurance rates. (Hold your breath and wait for that to happen.) Nothing personal, “it’s only business”. And the 4 million dollars? Directly and/or indirectly, that’s still nebulous.

    Do have a Happy & Safe Independence Day! Be safe. Buckle up. (Now, 20 dollars more if caught not wearing your seatbelt.) Do not forget to vote! It may be the only time you get to have any say in all of “this”.

    • Janet Ruby says:

      Is there any type of laws that prevent discrimination of a business based on the whims of a mayor and city council? It is a form of discrimination, that they decide who to give our money to. There are a lot of business that go out of business every year, why is the city not bailing them out? Why are they not paying their utility bills? I don’t think they should, but why do they get to decide who is viable and who is not? Who is worthwhile and who is not? They are abusing their position and power.

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