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Wizards clear political hurdle for stadium project
by Ridge Mahoney, December 14th, 2007 7AM

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Political obstacles have delayed or tripped up several stadium projects in the 13-year history of MLS, but count Kansas City among the eventual winners. Banished to a minor-league baseball park for the next two seasons because of renovations at Arrowhead Stadium, if all goes as planned the Wizards will have their own home in 2010 and might never play at Arrowhead again.

The Kansas City, Missouri, City Council has approved 13-0 its portion of funding for the $949 million Three Trails Redevelopment project that will include a soccer stadium and as many as 12 soccer fields. Tax increment financing (TIF), generated by the sale of bonds, will provide 29 percent (about $273 million) of the funding for the project; majority investment will come from the private sector, including OnGoal, LLC, operator-investor of the Wizards.

Projected capacity for the stadium is 18,500. The stadium component of the project, which includes the fields and a 250-room hotel, will cost $140 million and is the first phase of a three-part project that consists of office space and retail space to be built on a site currently occupied by the shuttered Bannister Mall.

The site is adjacent to Interstate 435, between 87th Street and 95th Street in south Kansas City. Nearby communities, including Olathe and Lenexa, had expressed interest in the project but proposals to revitalize the 467-acre site received strong support from local residents and political leaders. Mayor Mark Funkhouser initially resisted the idea of using TIF revenues but relented after a few days of negotiations amid lobbying from council members to give it the green light.

OnGoal executives Neal Patterson and Cliff Illig, founders of the medical software firm Cerner, have moved some Cerner operations into an office complex near the site. The company employs more than 7,700 people and is based in the northern part of Kansas City. OnGoal bought the team in August, 2006, from Hunt Sports Group.

The late Lamar Hunt put the team up for sale in late 2003 and insisted he'd sell only to a local group committed to building a stadium in the area. His stadium projects in Columbus and Dallas ran into numerous political snags but eventually were completed.

One hurdle remains: approval at the state level, which is expected by February. Demolition of the existing mall buildings at Bannister Mall and Benjamin Plaza, the cost of which is estimated at $120 million, will begin once state approval is forthcoming.

As Hunt knew well, political wrangling is all part of the complex, often arduous process of building the game in America.



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