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Council votes to set up STAR bond district for fieldhouse project in northeast Wichita

Thursday, February 16 2012 12:00 AM

Council votes to set up STAR bond district for fieldhouse project in northeast Wichita

Published in The Wichita Eagle

By Bill Wilson

A multi-use destination entertainment STAR bond project at K-96 and Greenwich Road cleared its first major governmental hurdle Tuesday.

Wichita City Council members voted unanimously to establish a 400-acre STAR bond district at the eastside Wichita intersection, anchored by a 53,000-square-foot sports fieldhouse and surrounded by a series of destination hotels and retailers.

The $270 million project, which would be partially funded by the STAR bond revenues in an amount to be determined by the state, now goes to the Kansas Department of Commerce for a qualification determination, which would set the stage for a project plan using sales tax revenues from the sports and entertainment retailers making up the district.

“We’re very excited that the project will move forward,” said Korb Maxwell, a Kansas City attorney representing GoodSports Enterprises, developers of the project. “We’re looking forward to working with the city and the state bringing this project to reality.”

The group is proposing a 53,000-square-foot indoor sports fieldhouse, part of a tourism and shopping destination district that includes the Cabela’s store under construction. The development group has ties to the Village West project around the Kansas Speedway in Johnson County. The centerpiece of the funding behind the project is the state’s STAR bond law, which allows the state’s 6.3 percent sales tax on purchases to be captured for certain development costs in a district. The funds can be used for “horizontal” expenses, including land acquisition and public and private infrastructure.

The GoodSports project is the first STAR bond proposal to come before the council since Bowllagio, a bowling-themed multi-use attraction proposed for west Wichita. It died before the council in 2010 amid public protests that it would misuse public tax money and threaten the financial viability of longtime private bowling alleys. The only other city STAR project is the riverfront improvement plan.

The first phase of the GoodSports project, including the fieldhouse, would be built just north of K-96 east of Greenwich, with the bulk of the district including Cabela’s, Target and other retailers running along both sides of Greenwich south to 21st Street. The proposed tourism district also includes an undeveloped tract owned by Slawson Cos. just southeast of the 21st and Greenwich intersection.

The developers say the sports facility would target a broad range of events, including national-caliber Amateur Athletic Union basketball tournaments. It also would target the one-of-a-kind restaurants and retailers that drive traffic to the Kansas City development.

Allen Bell, the city’s urban development director, said that the project also would use half of the city’s share of newly generated sales taxes in the area, but would not use any property tax monies.

Maxwell, the Kansas City attorney, said he’s confident his group can meet state requirements for $50 million in capital investment and $50 million in annual sales on the 140-acre chunk of land the group controls in the district.

“We feel good that the 50 can be done, so much so that we think it can be as much as four times over in this district,” he said.

City Council members lined up behind the project, saying the success of the Kansas Speedway had influenced them.

“This thing has a lot of legs under its stool that are pretty solid,” council member Pete Meitzner said.

Council member Jeff Longwell said it’s time for Wichita to begin collecting some of the state economic development dollars it largely devotes to northeast Kansas, in this case the state sales tax revenues that will be used to help finance the project.

“We don’t always get enough coming back to us,” Longwell said, saying the city gets only 30 or 35 percent “of the dollar” back for projects such as the GoodSports proposal.

The STAR bond project drew fire from supporters of free-market-driven economic development, who called on the council to put off establishment of the district until the Feb. 28 guest tax vote on the Ambassador Hotel project, a challenge to the city’s allocation of $2.25 million in guest taxes over the hotel’s first 15 years to the project.

“Taxation ought to be a public function to pay for public services,” said Wichitan Bob Weeks, who publishes a free-market blog. “We shouldn’t turn this very important thing over to private citizens for private gain.”

If the project is qualified at the state level, it would come back to the City Council for action on a project and financing plan before final state approval.

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