K.C. AT THE BAT: Pendulum Studio created unsolicited renderings for a 30,000-seat ballpark in downtown Kansas City, Mo. (Courtesy Pendulum Studio)

Royals didn’t ask, but ‘it’s a conversation starter,’ Pendulum’s Cole says

Kansas City sports architect Pendulum Studio has unveiled its vision for a new downtown stadium for Major League Baseball’s Royals. For the small designer of minor league parks and spring training venues, it’s a reboot of a discussion over a project some have wanted for decades.

In this case, though, there are fresh renderings — unsolicited — for a 30,000-seat MLB park.  

Jonathan Cole, a founding principal with Pendulum and veteran of three bigger sports design firms in town, said his 10-person shop completed the concept design on its  own without consulting with the Royals or city officials. The architect teamed with local chef and restaurateur Patrick Ryan on the food piece. Ryan runs Port Fonda, a Mexican eatery in the city’s Westport bar and restaurant district.

“For us, it’s a conversation starter,” Cole said.

“They had no input from us,” said Kevin Uhlich, the Royals’ senior vice president of business operations.

Pendulum’s stadium renderings are on display at kansascitylovestheroyals.com, a new website where baseball fans can voice their opinions on the design. Pendulum formed the site with web developer Unimarketa.

The downtown ballpark concept is nothing new. Kansas Citians have talked about it for 20 years, Uhlich said, especially with Kauffman Stadium showing its age. The team’s ballpark lease runs 11 more seasons, including 2020, and by that point, the building will be 58 years old.  

In addition, the sale of the Royals from David Glass to John Sherman, a transaction completed in November, has sparked renewed interest in a downtown facility, Uhlich said. (Glass died Jan. 9 at the age of 84).

“At some point, all the parties are going to have to realize something’s going to have to be done,” he said. “There are certain things (structurally) that are going to be a little more prohibitive to try and fix and would cost you more than it would be to build new.”

Ultimately, John Sherman will do what’s best for the Royals and their fans, Uhlich said.

Kauffman Stadium opened in 1973 as part of the Harry S. Truman Sports Complex, which includes Arrowhead Stadium. It’s 9 miles southeast of downtown Kansas City. The ballpark went through a $250 million renovation that was completed in 2009. 

A decade later, the infrastructure is starting to crumble in a humid climate, Uhlich said.

At the time of the renovations, some city leaders felt the region would be better served by a more centrally located facility. The effort has gained momentum as the downtown district goes through a resurgence in development.

“There’s been a lot of talk in Kansas City among the business community for a while now about the time being right and a lot of interest,” Cole said. “There are cranes everywhere (downtown) and it feels like there’s an energy that makes this an interesting time.”

Last year, Pendulum spent about four months working on the Royals’ concept. Cole and Ryan visited Oracle Park, home of the San Francisco Giants, to get ideas on things they could adapt for a new ballpark in Kansas City. The Giants, whose concessions are typically ranked among MLB’s best food experience, requested Pendulum’s input as they plan upgrades to their 20-year-old venue. In the end, they selected a different architect, Cole said.

The Royals’ concept sat on the shelf for a while until last week, when architecture critic Paul Goldberger spoke at a luncheon for the Downtown Council of Kansas City. Goldberger wrote a book called “Ballpark: Baseball in the American City,” published last year, and he talked about the time being right for building a downtown stadium. Cole attended the luncheon. Uhlich was there too, as a guest of Populous, the biggest sports architect in town and designer of Kauffman Stadium improvements.

“It dawned on me when I was leaving the luncheon (Jan. 30), it would be a great day to show that we’ve been thinking about it too and we agree on timing,” Cole said. “Even though there are about 10 years remaining on the Royals’ lease, it’s time to start thinking about it.”

Pendulum teamed with local chef and restaurateur Patrick Ryan on the food piece of the project. (Courtesy Pendulum Studio)

The site Pendulum worked with for the concept is the East Village neighborhood, a six- to eight-block parcel that’s among the last undeveloped properties downtown. It’s near the city’s federal court district and is mostly surface parking lots. It’s among several potential ballpark sites mentioned in local media reports, Cole said.

“We did some master planning for the previous developer when they owned the rights for the area and we designed the East Village apartments about eight years ago, which border the site,” he said. 

Pendulum’s 30,000-seat design extends to 26 suites, including two-story structures similar to the Hunt family suite at Arrowhead Stadium, which Cole said helped inspire the Royals’ concept. There’s naturally a huge presence for a BBQ vendor as well as Port Fonda.

“I challenged my staff to come up with some new ideas, working off the playbook we deal with on a regular basis (for clients) around the nation and apply it to our own backyard, which is cool,” he said. “The trend in baseball right now is smaller is better, especially for this market.”

 The project extends to mixed-use components with 1,000 housing units and 50,000 commercial square feet.

“It can’t just be a ballpark, because that’s what we have right now,” Cole said. “It has to be part of a bigger development. We’re already seeing a lot of density downtown and this would make it even more interesting.”

To this point, there’s no project cost considering Pendulum has not discussed its feasibility with team and city officials. Cole estimated his staff has invested $75,000 to $100,000 tied to the 800 man-hours spent on the concept.

Ryan grew up in suburban Kansas City before leaving for 15 years after high school. He worked in Chicago for renowned culinary chef Rick Bayless before returning to Kansas City in 2010. Two years later, Ryan opened Port Fonda, and he got to know Cole after they first met when Cole was dining at his restaurant.

Ryan said about 80% of people he talks to are excited about the possibility of a downtown ballpark, with the balance representing the “old guard” concerned about parking and traffic congestion connected to a new facility. 

“Kansas City Power & Light (entertainment district) boasted about 25,000 people watching the Super Bowl there and nobody complained,” he said. “It’s an interesting pick-and-choose … based on a personal experience.” 

Said Cole: “Like a buddy of mine says: ‘Everybody hates change but loves progress.’ At least it’s a step in the right direction about what it could do for the city. We’ve seen ballparks shape communities and have a positive impact.”