City tables WaterWalk hotel vote

The Wichita City Council tabled action Tuesday for three weeks on a letter of intent to help fund a WaterWalk hotel, as pressure from the public mounted for more time to study the plan.

A proposal for the city to put $2.5 million in guest tax revenue into a $12 million Marriott Fairfield Inn and Suites hotel on the northwest corner of Main and Dewey will be back on the city agenda Feb. 2.

That's after a city consultant can complete a market study on the new hotel's potential effect on the nearby city-owned Hyatt Regency.

City Council members also wanted time to be briefed on a new community improvement district policy, a special taxing district for the hotel to help finance development.

But several audience members got their wish with the tabled item as well, after criticizing the city's lack of transparency on an issue they said first surfaced last weekend in an Eagle story.

Hotel developer Jim Korroch said he hopes to break ground in June for the 130-room hotel, which would help the city develop a block of 1,000 "commitable" hotel rooms to stem the tide of lost convention and sporting event business.

Wichita has lost several conventions to a shortage of downtown hotel rooms, said Maureen Hofrenning, vice president of Go Wichita, including the Main Streets Conference, the National Association of County Agricultural Agents, the American Fishery Society and the Vietnam Veterans of America.

In addition, Wichita doesn't have enough downtown rooms to land the first two rounds of the NCAA men's basketball tournament, city staff said.

The hotel, according to Korroch and city officials, would be funded by a little more than $9 million borrowed by Korroch's Four-G LLC and $2.5 million from the city, raised through general obligation bonds and then repaid over 20 years from transient-guest-tax revenue.

That guest tax money, council member Jeff Longwell said, would largely come from out-of-town hotel guests.

No local property tax money would be involved in the project, which would generate between $200,000 and $250,000 in annual property tax revenues, Korroch said.

The city would offer $12 million in industrial revenue bonds to facilitate a sales tax exemption worth almost $400,000 for the project, unless the Kansas Legislature strikes first this winter to eliminate the exemption, city officials said.

Six residents spoke out against the hotel proposal. They levied a variety of criticisms, such as the improper use of city bonds and the use of city incentives against privately funded suburban businesses at the Waterfront and NewMarket Square.

Several asked the council to delay action on the letter of intent so "the public could vet" the project.

One opponent, John Todd, called the hotel proposal "public stimulus money without the benefit of extensive public hearings."

Todd criticized the council's lack of transparency.

"I read over the weekend staff has been working on this for 60 to 90 days. The first I read about this was over the weekend," Todd said.

"More time. We need more time. A project of this nature you've been working on for 60 to 90 days, we should be updated on this periodically, and these questions need to be integrated into the process."

Council member Paul Gray questioned whether the "public vetting" would have any impact on supporters or opponents.

"How much vetting does the public do on a project like this?" Gray asked. "When you talk about more time, we have people here in favor and people here opposed.

"Having known the history of the people here who are for it, they're going to be for it in two or three months. The people here who are against it, less one or two individuals I haven't seen before, are going to be against it in two months.

"I don't see anyone changing anyone's mind, one way or another.... This is a singular project that we have known about for several months, and as representatives, we have done our vetting."