The next step in an elaborate $429 million destination entertainment development at K-96 and Greenwich Road will come before the Wichita City Council today.
Council members will be asked to set a Jan. 15 public hearing to consider adoption of GoodSports’ sales tax and revenue bond project plan for a 423-acre sports, retail, entertainment, medical and office development in northeast Wichita. The centerpiece is a 65,000-square-foot athletic field house that developers think will draw athletes and their families to Wichita for a variety of tournaments and training opportunities.
Today’s discussion is the first public look at a project plan that promises to bring 1.9 million annual visitors to Wichita, generate 1,300 new jobs and generate $83.6 million in new yearly retail sales when the first phase is completed, according to project feasibility consultant Canyon Research Southwest.
“We feel really good about where we’re at,” said Kansas City attorney Korb Maxwell, spokesman for GoodSports, who said the group is targeting “dirt moving out there about mid-year 2013” once the project receives state approval.
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“We wanted to move forward much faster, but we spent a large portion of the summer working on both the destination attraction and anchor retailer components.”
Maxwell said the group is nearing an announcement on a second major anchor retailer to join the outdoors retailer Cabela’s. He said about 35 percent of the acreage in the development is under contract.
Meanwhile, council members say they remain behind the project, driven largely by steady citizen demand for more entertainment venues in Wichita.
But the stage is set for a debate about some of the components of the project, with some council members concerned about whether its hotel projects — in an area with some established hotels — are appropriate for STAR bond financing.
STAR bonds, or sales tax and revenue bonds, are bonds issued by cities and counties to finance major commercial, entertainment and tourism projects. The sales tax revenue generated by the new developments is used to pay off the bonds.
“I still like the sound of the project,” Mayor Carl Brewer said. “I know we have a lot of people who want to see this type of environment. Thing is, the city’s not going to do one for them. We’ve gotten a lot of requests for something of this nature, so I know the citizens want something like this.”
The sporting events targeted by GoodSports — largely the stream of big summer basketball tournaments sponsored by groups like Mid America Youth Basketball and the Amateur Athletic Union — could create enough demand for hotel rooms to justify STAR bonds for the new hotels.
“I think the hotel issue is a question that needs to be addressed,” Vice Mayor Janet Miller said. “... If the hotels that are up there come in and tell us they’re at 25 or 50 percent occupancy and this thing could kill them, then that’s one thing. But this looks like a burgeoning market to me. I will say that if we believe this concept will bring in the travelers that we think it will, then I think there will certainly be more need up there for hotel space.”
Council member Jeff Longwell, who has long advocated the pursuit of STAR bond projects for Wichita — historically done primarily in northeast Kansas — said the project looks impressive.
“And at the end of the day, STAR bonds aren’t a horrible way to finance because it brings money back into the community,” he said. “I haven’t been very successful selling that idea because people are worried we’re allowing businesses too much of a competitive advantage. I don’t know that I’ve heard that in this case, but there may be a few.”
Consultants estimate that $133.6 million of the estimated $429 million project plan is eligible for STAR bond financing, including $50.1 million for land acquisition, $42.7 million for site work, streets and parking, $7.5 million for the K-96 interchange, $7.7 million for design permits and fees and $6.6 million for construction costs.
The city-issued STAR bonds would be paid from a net 5.99 percent sales tax, including the state’s 5.7 percent sales tax rates, according to the Canyon report. Also included is the city’s share of the 1-cent countywide sales tax that doesn’t cover bond payments on the Kellogg freeway work — .29 of each cent collected in Sedgwick County.
The project plan includes in its $125 million first phase a 65,000-square-foot fieldhouse, an indoor multi-sport athletic complex for destination competition, athletic training and entertainment. Nearby will be a 150-room hotel for visitors.
Other projects in the $125 million first phase include the Wavehouse, a destination water park with its own associated 150-room hotel, the recently opened Cabela’s retail store, 72,000 square feet for space for another national-level retailer and another 70,000 square feet for regional retailers.
The first phase also includes completion of a full-service interchange at K-96 and Greenwich Road, and the completion of significant intersections along the Greenwich corridor.
Future phases include 630,000 square feet of commercial space, a medical campus, office buildings and almost 60,000 square feet of general office space. The site also includes 26 pad development locations on 60 acres, which could handle an additional 262,500 square feet of commercial development.
If the city approves the project plan in January, the proposal goes to Kansas Commerce Secretary Pat George for STAR bond approval. In March, George approved the boundaries of the GoodSports STAR bond district as approved by the city council.