KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — One of Kansas City’s most venerable cultural institutions, the annual American Royal horse and livestock exhibition, is moving to Kansas from Missouri, officials including Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback announced Tuesday.
Their announcement during a news conference at Kansas Speedway in west Wyandotte County is the culmination of months of work by Brownback and the Kansas Department of Commerce to lure the weeks-long, 117-year-old exhibition across the state line. The effort generated some controversy, as some Kansas legislators questioned whether it came with a potential cost to the cash-strapped state.
The American Royal says its exhibition draws nearly 270,000 people a year. Many of them come for a national barbecue contest, and this year’s competition, set to begin Wednesday, has already moved to the speedway.
The show has played such an important role in Kansas City, Missouri, that after the city was awarded a major league baseball team for the 1969 season, the name “Royals” was chosen from among thousands of suggestions submitted by fans. The winning entry cited the popularity of the American Royal and the city’s pre-eminent position in the livestock industry.
The American Royal spent several years trying to persuade leaders in Kansas City, Missouri, to tear down the aging Kemper Arena, the former home of the event, and replace it with a smaller venue. But officials eventually dropped the effort following criticism from historic preservationists and other groups who want the 42-year-old arena to be saved. In 2011, the American Royal Rodeo was held in the Sprint Center in downtown Kansas City before moving back to Hale Arena, a smaller building near Kemper Arena in the city’s West Bottoms.
A report by the Kansas Department of Commerce earlier this year envisioned a Kansas-based American Royal as part of a major development near the speedway that would include a new hotel, a children’s museum and a 5,000-seat arena that could be used for hockey. But administration officials said at the time that any such plans were mere “speculation.”
The speedway is part of a thriving entertainment and retail shopping district that includes Major League Soccer and minor league baseball stadiums. With state approval, Wyandotte County issued $450 million in bonds starting in 2001 to build the speedway and develop the area, with the bonds backed by sales tax revenues.
The bonds will be paid off early, by the end of this year. Some legislators worried that the state would expand the development district to include an American Royal project rather than allowing sales tax revenues to begin flowing to the state.
Kansas has struggled to balance its budget since Republican legislators slashed personal income taxes in 2012 and 2013 to stimulate the economy. The announcement about the American Royal came two weeks before the Nov. 8 election, with Brownback’s allies facing a political backlash over the budget as they seek re-election to the Legislature.
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