The KC Strip is the sirloin of Kansas City media, a critical cut of surmisin' steak that each week weighs in on the issues of the day, dictating its column to Pitch managing editor Tony Ortega.

Ballpark Figures 

The Star can't say it was wrong about the stadiums, so we will.

The KC Strip sleeps easy knowing that the editorial writers of The Kansas City Star keep such a vigilant watch over the best interests of our town.

Shyeah, right. Actually, this sizzler loves getting a chance to say "We told you so!"

At the end of a steamy summer, the Strip's thoughts have been turning to a sentence that appeared in the Star way back in icy January: "Taxpayers, watch your wallets."

The warning was sounded by columnist Yael T. Abouhalkah, the paper's tax-crunching oracle on matters pertaining to the Truman Sports Complex. Back when we were all shivering in wool sweaters and dreaming about hot summer evenings drinking beer at the baseball game, Abouhalkah was harping against the idea of building a downtown ballpark for the Royals.

The downtown ballpark idea is deader than Mark Teahen's bat, yet this rump still feels a tickle on its wallet side. Lately, the Chiefs and Royals are giving every indication that they want to bleed Jackson County taxpayers from both veins to pay for renovations at their stadiums. The Chiefs have floated a plan that seeks $240 million from the public for Arrowhead. And Royals owner David Glass recently said he thinks taxpayers should spend $200 million on his side of the parking lot.

Wait a minute! Didn't voters all across the metro tell Glass and Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt to take the Star-endorsed Bistate II request for $360 million and shove it up their liver-spotted noses? Now they want $440 million. The stones on these guys!

OK, we've circled the slaughterhouse enough times to know that rich guys get rich by driving hard bargains.

That's why we've been suggesting all along that the city ought to drive a hard bargain right back.

Remember last spring, when a number of politicians and business leaders were considering the idea of a downtown ballpark after Bistate II tanked? With a couple billion dollars of investment in downtown, they figured, why renovate Kauffman when the Royals and their 81 home dates could be part of that reinvigorated downtown?

Sure, sports stadiums are hardly the economic silver bullets their promoters make them out to be. But done correctly, a downtown park might help efforts to enliven the city in a way that Kauffman, for all its charms, simply cannot do out beside the highway. Besides, if the people of Kansas City — even those culturally deprived types who don't care about baseball — are going to pay for the renovations, why shouldn't they get something extra out of the deal?

The Strip knows that some of its fellow meatheads over at 18th and Grand — the reporters who follow real-estate money, anyway — saw the possible benefits of a new sports palace downtown.

On the editorial page, however, the official voice of the Star was that of Abouhalkah, a Bistate cheerleader who hated the idea of a downtown park. His January column called the notion "fanciful," and he once compared developer Jon Copaken and other proponents to the Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight.

The Royals eventually shushed the downtown ballpark discussion when they announced their wish to stay at the sports complex. Abouhalkah went grave dancing. "Royals owner David Glass knows a lot more about running a baseball team than do downtown businessmen," he sniffed in a lessons-learned column.

Yep, Glass is a regular Branch Rickey, all right. The Royals are a combined 155 games out of first place since he bought the franchise in 2000.

Anyway, Abouhalkah proceeded to advise the Jackson County Sports Authority to find $80 million to fulfill the terms of the teams' leases, which expire in 2014. Facing a job list it can't pay for, the county risks defaulting on the leases, effectively making the teams free agents.

Of course, the Strip warned folks that the Chiefs and the Royals weren't going to settle for a measly $80 million face-lift ("Dropping Trou," June 9). The owners of both teams are salivating for the posh suites, endless concession stands and other moneymaking opportunities that are customary in modern sports stadiums.

And now, the extortion of Jackson County taxpayers has begun. The Strip wagers that Carl Peterson, the Chiefs' president and general manager, was not sad to see news of his July lunch date with Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius reported in the Star.

The shakedown imminent, this hunk of meat has found itself stewing about Abouhalkah, Mr. $80 Million.

His stubborn opposition to the downtown ballpark was so silly — and his own belief that the teams would have been satisfied with a measly 80 mil was so, uh, fanciful — that we began to suspect that something irrational might have been pushing his pen. Something, perhaps, like pride.

You see, Abouhalkah lives near the Truman Sports Complex.

So the Strip sent him an e-mail to ask him about it. And we weren't surprised when Abouhalkah wrote back to say that his place of residence "has never been a big or small factor" in his columns and unsigned editorials. OK, so we didn't expect him to admit to holding an east-side bias, even if he had one.

But what about the downtown park? Does he regret being so critical of the idea now that taxpayers look like mugging victims anyway?

No, Abouhalkah responded. He noted his past support of Bistate II and the fact that renovating Kauffman remains cheaper than a downtown park. His mission now, he wrote, is to promote less secrecy while Jackson County and the teams work out a "reasonable" level of public support.

Apparently, when no one pays attention to anything else you've said, all you can do is call for reason.


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