Politics & Government

August 19, 2014

Wichita City Council sets hearing for tax district to aid in redevelopment of Union Station

Developer Gary Oborny plans a $54 million renovation of the property. The tax increment financing district would repay about $17.3 million of the project’s cost.

Residents will have a chance to weigh in on a proposal for a tax increment financing district for developing Union Station downtown.

The Wichita City Council set an Oct. 7 public hearing on the issue after hearing from the developer during a meeting Tuesday morning.

Developer Gary Oborny with Occidental Management plans a $54 million renovation of the property, which has been vacant for several years.

The TIF district would repay about $17.3 million of the project’s cost, according to city documents. TIFs work by pledging future property tax gains to projects in areas that are considered blighted.

The TIF is a pay-as-you-go proposal, which means the money isn’t available to the developer until after the project is completed and tax revenue has been collected. City Manager Robert Layton said the city will assume no risk on the TIF proposal.

The TIF is part of Occidental Management’s business plan for the site, Oborny said.

He said he hopes to begin construction on Phase One of the project by the end of the year, particularly since 2014 is the 100-year anniversary of Union Station.

The first phase would take about seven or eight months to complete, he said.

“What you’re seeing today is a realization of that vision (for downtown),” said Jeff Fluhr of the Wichita Downtown Development Corp.

Occidental Management decided to pursue a pay-as-you-go TIF for a few reasons, Oborny said.

“One, we had the financial ability to do it. Two, downtown Wichita is in a transition period right now. Meaning when you have to develop all these public access areas for programming, they’re very expensive. So you still have to have the TIF to make it economically feasible,” Oborny said. “But with that being said, we also felt the responsibility that we did not want the city to finance it.”

It’s an area Occidental Management has been watching for several years, Oborny said.

“We’ve tracked it from Day One. We actively pursued it for two or three years when we got really serious,” Oborny said. “As we saw more happening downtown, we started to consider downtown as a potential area for us.”

The space could have retail, offices and restaurants. Developers envision the plaza in front of Union Station being used to host musical events, street performers, food vendors and farmers markets during lunchtime, in the evenings and on weekends.

City Council member Pete Meitzner suggested the council might consider extending the Old Town entertainment district to include Union Station.

The county and school district have 30 days to veto the proposal.

After the public hearing, the plan would require a two-thirds majority by the council to pass.

Reach Kelsey Ryan at 316-269-6752 or kryan@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @kelsey_ryan.

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