The tragic story of how Kansas City leaders, blinded by the Wizards’ pro-sports glamour project, turned their backs on an idea that might actually have saved Bannister Mall 

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The soccer-oriented plan, however, had been the first to lay claim to the site — and make political friends. Sharp has received $1,000 in campaign contributions from OnGoal as well as LANE4, according to campaign-finance disclosures.

And though the visit from and meetings with J.P. Morgan representatives indicated that the investor had a strong interest in Kansas City, discussions never progressed to the point of a financial commitment.

Meanwhile, the Wizards were prepared to throw around a little Cerner money. "You can't turn that down," Councilwoman Cathy Jolly tells The Pitch, in an effort to describe the bird-in-hand nature of the soccer plan.

Owen Buckley, the president of LANE4, says the Wizards group spent $30 million acquiring and preparing the ground around Bannister Mall before the team turned to Kansas City, Kansas.

Still, Austin is annoyed. He feels that 3-Trails Village followed the Economic Development Corporation's every instruction, only to be discarded at the first bounce of a hypothetical soccer ball.

"It was like we never even existed," he says.


Soccer's future in south Kansas City dimmed when investment banks began to choke on the bad bets they had made on goofy home loans.

In December 2007, the same month that the City Council approved the incentives for the Wizards' project, Bear Stearns announced that it had lost $854 million in just three months. It was as an early signal that Wall Street was headed for trouble.

"Our world really started changing," Buckley says. Credit markets seized up. Buckley says his team spent much of 2008 scrambling to keep things together. At one point, LANE4 asked the city to back the TIF bonds. City officials declined.

The Wizards, in the meantime, were anxious for work to begin on their stadium.

"They're a restless group, as you've seen," Buckley says. "They want a stadium yesterday."

The owners of Nebraska Furniture Mart at Village West made an overture to the Wizards in April of this year, Buckley says. The appeal of Kansas City, Kansas, quickly became apparent.

The furniture store offered the Wizards land on which they could build their stadium. Accepting the offer meant that the Wizards wouldn't have to fuss with lining up sales- and earnings-tax-producing tenants at the Bannister site. Stores at Village West were already added established and were producing the tax revenue that the Wizards need to back their stadium bonds.

Team officials hope to open a new facility in 2011.

"What's important to us and really to our fans is making sure we're in a soccer stadium and in a soccer stadium as soon as possible," Wizards President Robb Heineman tells The Pitch.

Heineman and Buckley say they still believe in the Bannister area. Of course, they now own 200 acres out there. Optimism came with the deed.

"We're going to make sure something wonderful happens out there," Heineman says. "We owe it to the community; we owe it to ourselves. But at the end of the day, we owed it to our fans to make sure we're in a soccer stadium, and that's the move we made."

Austin says he doesn't fault the Wizards for pursuing their interest. He does wish the CID had been more effective in getting them to think more about a plan that included the stadium but was not built around it. "We didn't do that," he says. "It's inexcusable."

Now, once again, the Bannister site is open to development ideas.

Is there a chance that J.P. Morgan execs might come back for another walk around the grounds?

"Investors are always looking for opportunities," Austin says. The vagueness of his reply suggests that investment bankers will not be sitting in church pews anytime in the near future.

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