January 7, 2012

City to seek input on proposed east-side development seeking bonds

Wichita City Council members say they’re ready to set a public hearing on a proposed destination entertainment and shopping complex at K-96 and Greenwich that would be funded by state sales tax revenue.

Wichita City Council members say they’re ready to set a public hearing on a proposed destination entertainment and shopping complex at K-96 and Greenwich that would be funded by state sales tax revenue.

GoodSports, the Kansas City-based developer that counts the Village West project around the Kansas Speedway among its credits, seeks a Feb. 14 public hearing on a $50 million Sales Tax and Revenue bond district for the site. The group proposes a 53,000-square-foot indoor sports fieldhouse, part of a 370-acre tourism and shopping destination district that includes the Cabela’s store under construction. GoodSports is led by hotelier Jerald Good and consultant Rick Worner, the developer of Village West.

The proposed district targets the growing $7 billion youth sports industry in America. If some city officials have their way, it could also include Stryker Field, the nearby soccer complex.

Council members on Friday supported taking a full look at the project. The question of the public hearing comes before the council Tuesday.

“What they’re trying to do has some promise,” Mayor Carl Brewer said. “It certainly coincides with what’s going on on the north side of K-96 with the soccer and the addition of some baseball fields.”

Brewer said he’s intrigued by the success of a similar soccer complex in Overland Park, and thinks the GoodSports proposal could draw thousands each weekend to northeast Wichita.

“Right now, we’re not doing the big wrestling tournaments, any of the big AAU-style basketball tournaments, anything of that nature, and this proposal has the multiple courts allowing these kinds of events,” Brewer said.

Council member Janet Miller said the GoodSports facility could help Wichita tap into that youth sports market.

“Certainly, if you stay in a mid-range hotel anywhere, you’re going to run into some kind of sports team and families traveling with them,” she said. “There does seem to be a lot of activity around youth sports, and we do see our own park and rec youth sports growing.”

Other council members are concerned about the sports facility’s potential impact on private sports-related businesses, such as Rodney Steven’s Genesis tennis facility and the Mid-America Youth Basketball program, a regional tournament operation located in Newton.

“It does seem like a cool project, having that facility there,” council member Michael O’Donnell said. “However, I’m a board member of the South YMCA and we’re expanding the Farha Center down there and it’s a huge regional draw, too. I feel like Wichita has a market already in place that can handle basketball and stuff, so I don’t know if we need this risk.”

“I definitely will be interested to hear if there are any entities out there who feel like they’d be negatively impacted by this proposal,” Miller said.

Mid-America Youth Basketball officials in Newton did not return calls seeking comment Friday. Steven said he’d like to hear more about the kinds of services at the facility, and whether it would be used for tourism or local businesses.

Setting a public hearing

The GoodSports project is the first STAR bond proposal to come before the council since Bowllagio, a bowling-themed multi-use attraction that 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.

Council member Jeff Longwell said he’s intent on keeping Tuesday’s agenda focused on setting a date for a public hearing, rather than allowing it to turn into the first of two public debates on the project’s merits, fueled by groups that oppose public subsidies for private business.

“We’ve done that numerous times, and sometimes the public hearing doesn’t get set because the appetite to set it died because we didn’t like the way the first session went,” Longwell said. “I absolutely think we ought to hear this. I think the project has some promise, and I don’t think we’re requiring anyone to make up their minds on Tuesday. ... It’s a disservice to the developers not to fully hear this.”

However, council member Pete Meitzner said council policy permits public comment on new business items.

“My goal is to follow the steps as aligned with the STAR bond process,” Meitzner said.

The facility’s impact

The first phase of the 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 just southeast of the 21st and Greenwich intersection owned by Slawson Cos. The district has grown since its unveiling on Wednesday, with 23 undeveloped acres north of K-96 added late last week. The owner of that land is Ritchie Development.

The sports facility would target a broad range of events, including national-caliber Amateur Athletic Union basketball tournaments. In addition, Worner – who includes Nebraska Furniture Mart and Cabela’s among his credits in Village West – is targeting the same type of one-of-a-kind restaurants and retailers that drive traffic to the Kansas City development.

GoodSports has completed a feasibility study that estimates the sports facility would attract 300,000 athletes and spectators annually, including 20 sports tournaments, 10 ongoing leagues, 15 sports camps and 15 sports conferences. More than 3 million visitors are estimated annually.

Bond procedures

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. The funds can be used for “horizontal” expenses, including land acquisition and public and private infrastructure. The funds also can be used to build the fieldhouse, one of the exceptions permitted under Kansas law that expires in July.

For the project to proceed, the City Council and the Kansas Department of Commerce would have to establish a STAR bond district for the intersection, following the public hearing at City Hall. Then, developers must submit a project plan demonstrating at least a $50 million capital investment, at least $50 million in gross sales and no significant negative impact on existing businesses in the project marketing area. The council and Commerce Department must again approve. Both council decisions require a two-thirds vote.

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