Wichita City Council to consider financing for downtown riverbank development

The Wichita City Council will consider $2.5 million in tax increment financing Tuesday for a downtown apartment and entertainment STAR bond complex on the west bank of the Arkansas River.

The TIF money would be used for the River Vista apartment project, a $24.8 million plan to build a 154-unit complex overlooking the west bank of the river, along with parking facilities.

Plans also call for a $2.5 million sales tax and revenue bond, or STAR bond, issue for riverbank improvements. That process requires the approval of the Kansas Department of Commerce, after developers and the city have proven that the improvements will meet state requirements for annual new business and visitor numbers.

Tuesday’s hearing is the first public declaration by the River Vista developer – a Wichita group headed by Bradley Fair developer George Laham – that the project will seek STAR bond funding. Other partners are Old Town developer Dave Burk, Key Construction president Dave Wells and theater chain operator Bill Warren.

Also included will be pedestrian access to the river and to Boats and Bikes, a commercial business that will rent bicycles and boats to the public to use along and on the river.

According to city documents, the TIF revenue will be used to build a $1.04 million parking facility for tenants and the public. Also included is almost $550,000 for paving, sidewalks and landscaping; just more than $250,000 for utility relocation and extensions; a $200,000 signaled intersection on McLean; and more than $356,000 listed as fees and miscellaneous costs.

The project will be built on a little more than four acres of city-owned land that was once the site of the West Bank Stage at First and McLean. The land, appraised at $600,000, will be sold to developers for $100,000, according to city documents.

That sale was challenged earlier this year by Americans for Prosperity-Kansas officials, who contended that the land should be sold at its appraised value – and that it may be underappraised as a piece of significant riverfront property.

However, city documents contend that the land – currently off the tax rolls as city property – would be valued at $14.3 million for tax purposes when the apartment project is complete.

The project has been controversial since the Laham group filed its project plan in March to oppose fellow Wichita developer Steve Clark, who had been fine-tuning his own apartment project, called the Riv.

An Eagle investigation in August found that City Hall botched the bidding process for the riverfront land, first offering up a three-week window for proposals when 30 to 60 days is typical. The city then gave the Laham group a month’s extension to file its plan after the group expressed interest in March.

Clark contended that his group was never told the city would bid the project, but an Eagle check of internal city documents obtained in an open records request showed that Clark’s project staff did know that the city would seek other bidders.

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