As Intrust Bank Arena nears its first anniversary in downtown Wichita, Sedgwick County's original arena sits largely empty off of I-135 in Valley Center.
The Kansas Coliseum Pavilions, used for horse and dog shows, swap meets and other events, will remain open through 2016. But the rest of the complex — Britt Brown Arena, the RV park and the grounds — are barren. The county mothballed Britt Brown earlier this year and recently made repairs to the north parking lot.
The entire site is valued at $22 million, and whoever wins three seats on the Sedgwick County Commission will have a say in its future. One candidate wants to focus on rodeos; another wants to give voters another shot at approving slot machines.
The complex as a whole operated in the red for several years, with losses of just less than $1 million in 2008. Opened in 1978, the arena is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and requires significant renovation.
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Site for rodeo resort?
District 5 commissioner Gwen Welshimer, who represents southern Sedgwick County, wants to develop the site for rodeos. A group of developers pitched building a rodeo "resort" there, but commissioners voted down the idea last year, along with those by other developers who responded to a request for proposals.
Welshimer had backed a proposal from North American Management-Kansas to build a mix of entertainment and retail on the more than 200-acre site. Heritage Development Group had proposed the Saddle Rock Rodeo Resort.
Welshimer now seems interested in heading that direction.
"For every day the old Coliseum site remains a ghost town, Sedgwick County loses the potential of 1,000 jobs and an annual $10 million in tourist-generated revenue," Welshimer said in a campaign "concept" she released this week.
The Democrat said she based the estimate on the number of jobs on those from developers who responded to the county's original request for proposals.
Welshimer said state sales tax revenue — or STAR — bonds could be a resource for remodeling Britt Brown Arena for rodeo events.
Her opponent, Republican Jim Skelton, a Wichita City Council member, said he had no specific idea for the Coliseum complex.
"It's going to have to be used and used to a level that would be economically feasible," he said of the site. "It's become a drain on the county, so to speak."
Skelton said he would be open to listening to all options for the complex's future. While he thinks the pavilions should remain open for the livestock, equestrian and dog shows often held there, "perhaps the county should consider selling that building," he said, referring to the arena, "providing income to the county and putting money back on the tax rolls."
Commissioner Dave Unruh, who is running to keep his District 1 seat in the northeast part of the county, said the pavilions should stay open.
The county, he said "needs to try to make them as least costly to the county budget as we can."
Unruh, a Republican, said he would not advocate that the county spend any money on expansion or remodeling at this time. He said the county should "continue to look for ways to bring investment to the (Wichita Greyhound Park) property but not expand Britt Brown. I don't want to invest any more of our funds in it."
The nearby greyhound park, on land owned by the county, closed two months after voters said "no" in 2007 to slot machines there.
Some blamed the narrow defeat on the wording of the ballot question which asked if electronic gaming machines should be allowed in Sedgwick County without specifying that the slot machines would be placed only at the greyhound park.
Betty Arnold, a Democrat running for District 1, said she would like to give residents an opportunity to vote on slot machines again.
"It's not as though I'm advocating one thing or another," she said, "but I have talked to a number of people who were disappointed they didn't have the opportunity to vote on that venue separately."
Asked about the Coliseum, Arnold, a Wichita school board member, mentioned slot machines and said " I would look to see if there's enough interest to generate a vote going to the people."
"I still so frequently hear so many people talk about the number of Wichita vehicles that travel" out of town to casinos.
Arnold said she would keep the pavilions open, but "that being said, I'd love to see the Coliseum being developed to serve a broader interest."
'Put it to work'
Republican Richard Ranzau, who is running for the District 4 seat in the northern part of the county now represented by Kelly Parks, said the complex should not be a burden to taxpayers but "we need to put it to work so it's not just sitting there. Either we run it and operate it or we sell it and put it to work."
Ranzau said he is not entirely against putting money into the property "so long as we're going to make money on it."
Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, a Democrat running for District 4, said she's hearing from a lot of people in Park City and Valley Center who say they are worried about the complex deteriorating.
"And some of them don't want to drive to Wichita for events," she said. "I actually am hoping we can do something to save the facility."
She said the county and "private sector can all benefit from working together to come up with something to salvage that facility. I think our population is large enough that people would utilize that facility and the downtown arena."