In Kansas City’s Crossroads, here’s who wins and who loses with Royals ballpark plan

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Among the bigger winners of the Kansas City Royals site-selection sweepstakes on Tuesday was Matt Abbott, who owns dozens of properties in the Crossroads, including several that lie in the footprint of the proposed ballpark.

If the public vote passes in April, Abbott will see a cash windfall from the sale of buildings that will be demolished to make way for the stadium, and his properties that aren’t razed will likely benefit from a rise in property values.

Reached by phone Tuesday, Abbott was effusive about the Royals’ announcement.

“I think it’s freaking amazing,” Abbott said. He said the discussions he’d had with the team — prior to the official announcement — had given him the impression the Royals would be “a great neighbor with great intentions.” He called it a “win-win.”

But was it a win for his tenants, whose displacement would not be offset by million-dollar checks from the city? Abbott wasn’t as eager to discuss that side of the deal.

“Hey, I gotta run. Thanks. Bye.”

Click.

One of Abbott’s tenants, Jill Cockson, had more to say on the topic. Three years ago, she opened Chartreuse Saloon at 1627 Oak St. If it’s a “yes” in April, her bar will be flattened.

“Local businesses down here have been trying for months to get information on what’s happening with this proposal so they can prepare for their futures,” Cockson said. “And it’s just been a game of hot potato with the City Council, the city manager and Tony Privitera (who owns the former Kansas City Star building, an anchor of the project). Silence from Abbott, too. None of these people care about this neighborhood. They’re just spreadsheet jockeys trying to make as much money as they possibly can.”

The proposed footprint of the stadium reaches from Grand Boulevard east to Locust Street and from Interstate 670 south to 17th Street. Jackson County residents will decide on April 2 whether to subsidize the new ballpark.

Cockson is probably the most outspoken critic of the Royals proposal, but she’s hardly alone.

An evolving cast of characters has spent the last three decades creating a community in the Crossroads that reflected their progressive values: an emphasis on art, on local, on makers. The rent’s higher these days, but the ethos has stuck around. To many of these constituents, a ballpark represents a final nail in the coffin — capital squashing art, the jocks exiling the freaks.

“The Crossroads is one of the only neighborhoods left in KC that’s almost exclusively locally owned and operated and full of independent businesses,” said Mat Adkins, who owns the boutique liquor shop The Pairing, 1615 Oak St., which would be knocked down under the proposal. “Dropping a baseball stadium on top of it will completely change the culture of creativity that so many people have built over that time.”

Mat Adkins, owner of Crossroads boutique liquor store The Pairing, opposes the Royals’ proposed stadium site. “This will just make us another Power and Light District.”

Mat Adkins, owner of Crossroads boutique liquor store The Pairing, opposes the Royals’ proposed stadium site. “This will just make us another Power and Light District.”

“This is an arts district,” said Sasha Santillan, owner of Duet, a gift shop and studio space that houses four woman-owned businesses at 517 E. 18th St. “Arts-related businesses literally get tax breaks for being here. A big stadium would shift the community identity in a way that I think would be a shame.”

After an emergency meeting related to the Royals’ announcement Tuesday afternoon, the Crossroads Community Association told The Star that it hadn’t received any notice about the proposal and that it wouldn’t comment on it yet.

“We are taking some time to directly engage with our Crossroads community — whom we represent — before providing further comment,” read a statement sent from the group’s spokesperson, David Johnson.

The group, founded in 2001, added that it will focus on protecting small businesses, security and cleanliness, parking, traffic and “embracing the culture that put the Crossroads community on the map.”

Jane Ehinger, owner of Ehinger Properties, which owns multiple places that lie in the stadium’s footprint, said she hadn’t been contacted by anyone from the Royals or the city prior to Tuesday, and that her firm didn’t intend to advocate or oppose the project until the vote in April.

Unlike Abbott, who started developing Crossroads properties about a decade ago, Ehinger Properties’ presence in the Crossroads stretches back generations. The distinction has been meaningful for creatively inclined businesses it has leased to in the area.

“We aren’t developers and we don’t have debt on our properties,” Ehinger said. “Generally speaking, that allows us to keep our rental rates low enough to allow arts and local businesses to remain in the neighborhood, which has been critical to its identity all these years. What I’m hearing from that community is that putting the stadium in the Crossroads could negatively impact those folks.”

Some types of businesses are likely to fare better than others. Eric Flanagan, owner of King G Bar and Deli, at 500 E. 18th St., expressed mixed feelings. He’s outside the footprint of the stadium and would likely see more bar business on game days.

“I’d rather it be in the Crossroads than the East Village, mostly because I assume they would have built an entertainment district next to it, and I wouldn’t have wanted to compete with that,” Flanagan said.

But, he added, “I’m nervous about preserving the feel of the East Crossroads, and I’m worried about some of my neighbors who are in the crosshairs of this deal and would be more negatively affected than I think we would. And I’m nervous because I don’t own my own building, which means I’m beholden to my landlord.” (He leases from Abbott.)

Just because you own property doesn’t mean Tuesday’s announcement was cause for celebration, though. Sarah Hoffman is weeks away from opening Green Dirt on Oak in a 13,000-square-foot space she bought a few years ago at 1601 Oak St. The fine-dining restaurant will have a rooftop deck, an events space and a production facility for Hoffman’s award-winning cheese.

Or, that was the plan. Hoffman’s building lies in the footprint. Now, everything’s up in the air.

“When I talked to people at the city about the proposal, they assured me Oak was a no-go zone,” Hoffman said, meaning the plan wouldn’t require demolition of buildings on the east side of Oak Street. “Then three hours ago, I hear they want to plop their stadium on top of my building. Even if it doesn’t pass, it’s going to be hard to hire for the restaurant in the meantime, because there’s so much uncertainty.”

She said she supported the movement in the neighborhood to fight the proposal and protect local businesses.

“But I don’t know what kind of leverage we have,” Hoffman said. “I suspect not very much.”

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