Americans For Prosperity completes guest-tax petition drive

12/05/2011 5:00 AM

12/05/2011 8:37 PM

A free-market group says it has completed its petition drive to put the Ambassador Hotel guest tax provision on the ballot for public vote, collecting a little more than 3,500 signatures.

Jen Rezak, a spokeswoman for the Wichita chapter of Americans for Prosperity, said the group plans to deliver signed petitions to the city clerk’s office at 3:30 p.m. this afternoon, triggering a weeklong review process that could result in an election sometime next year. The petitions must contain at least 2,528 verified voter signatures. At issue is the use by Ambassador developers of $2.25 million in guest tax revenues generated by the hotel at Douglas and Broadway in its first 15 years of operation. Susan Estes, another AFP spokeswoman, said the group’s final weekend of signature collection was “very successful and humbling.”

Tabitha Lehman, Sedgwick County’s election commissioner, said Monday she’s uncertain when her office will receive the petitions from the city clerk. She said her employees will verify that each signature is from a registered Wichita voter.

“My goal would be to get through them late this week or early next week,” she said.

AFP, which opposes government involvement in private development projects, wants voters to decide whether the Ambassador developers get to keep the taxes, which are about 10 percent of the project’s $22.5 million price tag. Because the city had to amend a charter ordinance governing distribution of guest tax funds, the money is subject to a public protest petition.

If Lehman’s office certifies the necessary signatures, the issue will go back to the City Council for action. The city can either set an election date in consultation with Lehman or repeal the guest tax funding agreement.

The Ambassador developers are proposing a 117-room boutique hotel in the old Union National Bank Building at Douglas and Broadway. The building was the site of a 1958 anti-segregation sit-in led by students at the Dockum Drugs store, located on the building’s first floor. The Ambassador development team, headed by Tulsa boutique hotel developer Paul Coury, includes Old Town developer David Burk and Wichita construction executive Dave Wells.

The hotel plans include a $7.5 million, 282-stall parking garage and a small public park, both financed by the city.

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