The Park City City Council is ready to help a Wichita developer renovate the Britt Brown Arena at the Kansas Coliseum, if the arena can be annexed into the city.
The council on Tuesday night approved a letter of intent to issue up to $5 million in industrial revenue bonds for Wichita developer Johnny Stevens’ plan to turn the arena into an industrial center, city administrator Jack Whitson said Wednesday. Stevens plans to gut and remodel the arena for use by the National Institute for Aviation Research, but no formal agreement is in place and other tenants remain a possibility.
“Anything we can get up here business-wise we’re interested in,” Whitson said, “especially if it brings jobs, economic development and a developer with a solid track record like this one.”
If the deal with NIAR goes forward, it would relocate 80 full-time jobs to the converted arena, Whitson said, along with jobs at the adjoining pavilions, which Stevens has pledged to operate.
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NIAR executive director John Tomblin could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
The letter of intent is contingent on Stevens finalizing the purchase of the arena and its pavilions from Sedgwick County for $1.5 million, a deal that has to be completed by Jan. 16, Whitson said.
It’s also contingent on the city’s ability to annex the Coliseum ground. That would essentially tie Park City land to the immediate east with annexed land just east of I-35, also owned by Stevens. Stevens, a longtime opponent of public incentives for private development, did not return calls seeking comment.
“We can’t give him the IRBs right now because the facility’s not part of Park City,” Whitson said. “It’s touching the city, basically, so it’s not a big stretch.”
Whitson said the city also wants assurances that a tenant has been finalized before it approves any bonds, even IRBs, which are sold to investors without the city incurring any liability for repayment.
Commission chairman Dave Unruh said Sedgwick County won’t stand in the way of any annexation once the sale closes.
“We want this project to go forward, so anything it takes for the buyer to be successful, we will work with him,” Unruh said. “If we close the deal with Stevens and (fellow investor Steve) Barrett and their group, it’s their property and we’re perfectly willing to allow the annexation.”
Stevens told the Park City council that his first step once the sale closes next month is to get a roof on the arena, Whitson said. The letter of intent will enable Stevens to obtain a sales tax exemption for the materials involved in the roof project.
“The roof of that building’s in terrible shape, and he’s got to get right on it,” Whitson said. “We don’t want to stand in the way of that.”
Whitson said the arena renovation is an “enormous project.”
“He’s essentially talking about taking all the seats and the dirt out of the Coliseum to the outside walls,” Whitson said. “That’s why the thing’s going to cost that much.”
Once the sale closes and a tenant is signed, Whitson said he expects Stevens back before his council in late January.