The Swarm

Mix it up with The Bee's editorial board.

April 23, 2012
Is Kansas City a model for Sacramento, or is it a warning?

Throughout Sacramento's never-ending arena drama, boosters have pointed to Kansas City as a model to emulate.

It's happening again now that the Maloof family, owners of the Kings, has bailed on the framework of a deal to build a downtown arena. Mayor Kevin Johnson is talking up the possibility of moving ahead with a new arena in the railyard without the NBA team as an anchor tenant, noting that the Sprint Center in Kansas City is doing well without a pro sports franchise.

In November, his Think Big committee brought in former Kansas City Mayor Kay Barnes to talk about the economic development generated by the Sprint Center. Boosters see the arena as a game-changing project to jump-start development in the railyard and bring visitors from across the region to downtown Sacramento.

But as The Bee's editorial board pointed out then, the development boom in Kansas City also included a new convention center, a performing arts center and a retail and entertainment district. The editorial also noted that the city has had to dip into its general fund because sales taxes from the Power & Light District hadn't been covering all the debt payments.

Today, The Wall Street Journal weighed in on that point. It reported that traffic and sales are well below projections for the entertainment mecca for which Kansas City borrowed $295 million for infrastructure and other needs. That is forcing the city to set aside $12.8 million in its 2012-13 budget to cover the difference, and similar gaps are expected for years, the Journal says. The city's debt has led to a potential downgrade from one bond rating agency.

The newspaper says the problem in Kansas City is being repeated across the country because many cities sunk big money into development projects during the real estate boom, and those bets have turned sour because of the real estate crash and recession.

As Sacramento decides its next step, Kansas City could be as much a cautionary tale as a success story.

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About The Swarm

The Swarm is written by members of The Sacramento Bee's editorial board. They meet daily and are separate from the newsroom. Views included here are those of individual writers, and do not necessarily reflect those of a majority of the board or the positions expressed in The Bee's editorials.

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