City approves fee for Cabela's

The final obstacle to a northeast Wichita Cabela's was removed Tuesday.

The Wichita City Council voted 6-1, with Janet Miller opposed, to approve a 1.2 percent fee added to purchases at the store through the creation of a community improvement district.

The anticipated $17.2 million raised by the extra sales charge over 22 years will offset infrastructure, construction, site improvements, parking and landscaping at the $28 million project.

Construction will begin this summer, with opening set for spring 2012, when the CID collection will begin.

"We're very pleased," said Jamie Gull, Cabela's director of real estate, who spoke at the meeting. "We're happy to be coming to Wichita. This is an important step in that process, and this will help us move that process forward."

Several speakers urged the council to defer action on the Cabela's request until June, when Mayor Carl Brewer has slated a council re-review of the criteria for awarding CIDs. They dismissed the Cabela's CID as unwanted levy against taxpayers — although the money actually will be raised solely from Cabela's customers.

"Apparently, private entities have heard that the public purse is open," said Shirley Koehn.

Opponents also characterized the Cabela's CID as an improper business benefit that tilts the balance of power away from outdoor retailers that already are in the Wichita market, including Gander Mountain and Dick's Sporting Goods.

Miller praised Cabela's, calling it an "awesome store" and saying she's likely to be a customer. But she questioned whether the incentives were necessary to lure the Nebraska retailer to Wichita.

"They know the market is good," Miller said. "They know the region is good. They've seen our community, and they've planned to come here.

"CIDs are not designed for non-blighted greenfield development in my view.... I think this will harm other local retail."

Council member Paul Gray took issue with the opposition, including Miller's.

"There's so much negativity around this, and it continues to erode the credibility of people who come here and say no to this, because I don't recall any of those people ever saying yes to anything," Gray said.

"I've voted against a lot of subsidies... but if you can't come together to support a home run like Cabela's for the city of Wichita, then you're not really taking part in the discussion.

"I've had individuals in the community strongly opposed to subsidies sit there and say, 'I can understand Cabela's. That's one you should actually do it for instead of all the harebrained ideas you've had in other places.' Even those people can sit back and recognize that on occasion there's a time to do stuff like this....

"I'm proud to say I support the CID for Cabela's, and I think that anybody who chooses not to is misguided in their motivation."

Gull, the Cabela's representative, said he respects the opposition to the CID.

"I think that in a situation like this, a variety of voices are important, and we would not begrudge anyone expressing their opinion one way or another...," he said. "This public forum is a great way to do that."

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