Moving toward building a new ballpark and commercial district west of the Arkansas River, the Wichita City Council on Tuesday approved expanding a sales tax district to pay for public improvements.
The council voted 7-0 to expand the boundaries of the downtown river-area STAR bond district, which is expected to generate tens of millions of dollars for development on the west side of the river. STAR bonds allow the city to borrow money to facilitate development and pay back the debt from future increases in sales tax income from the district.
With the new Advanced Learning Library already under construction at Second and McLean near Exploration Place, the City Council has ambitious plans for the West Bank area.
The biggest want is for a new $40 million to $60 million stadium to replace the 82-year-old Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, now the home field of the independent Wichita Wingnuts baseball team.
Officials are hoping that a new ballpark will attract a Major League Baseball-affiliated farm team, which the city hasn’t had since the Wichita Wranglers left town for a new stadium in Arkansas after the 2007 season.
The city also has a request for proposals out seeking a developer to build a commercial district, now known as the Delano Catalyst, on city surplus property between the new library site on McLean and the stadium.
The city does not yet know how many dollars will be generated by the expanded STAR bond district, said development analyst Mark Elder. Those numbers will be included in a report due to the council on Dec. 20. A final site plan for the area will come sometime after that.
That report also is expected to show whether there will be enough money to completely replace Lawrence-Dumont or only enough to renovate it, Elder said.
The hope is that the city will be able to build a multi-use stadium suitable for baseball, softball, soccer and concerts, he said.
Bob Hanson, president of the Wichita Sports Commission, said he wants to tune in to a ballgame and not hear the announcers say it’s being played in one of the nation’s oldest stadiums.
I want them to say we have a brand new stadium. Bob Hanson, Wichita Sports Commission
“I want them to say we have a brand new stadium,” Hanson said.
STAR bonds – the finance mechanism used to develop the Kansas Speedway and other improvements in Kansas City, Kan. – require state approval.
Wichita is hoping to have its initial application to the state by the end of the year.
Jeff Fluhr, president of the Wichita Downtown Development Corp. and the Greater Wichita Partnership, complimented the council for moving to create a “distinctive world-class riverfront.”
“Our city is becoming known as a city of opportunity,” he said.
“We’re shifting the conversation from ‘Why Wichita?’ to ‘Why not Wichita?’ ” Mayor Jeff Longwell said.