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County commisioner pushing for public hearing on plans for Coliseum

Saddle Rock Rodeo Resort is one plan for the Kansas Coliseum.   courtesy art
Saddle Rock Rodeo Resort is one plan for the Kansas Coliseum. courtesy art

Two Sedgwick County commissioners say they are leaning toward a proposal for the Kansas Coliseum that would preserve Britt Brown Arena and create retail on the site's I-135 frontage.

Kelly Parks and Gwen Welshimer said the proposal by North American Management-Kansas LLC and partners the Law Co. and LawKingdon Architecture seems to best mesh with their vision of the future of the complex.

The county on Wednesday released each of the three proposals it received from groups interested in developing the Coliseum. On Thursday, the county made the plans, which it previously had kept private, available on its Web site, www.sedgwickcounty.org.

The public likely will get a chance to hear from each developer at a meeting later this month, Parks said.

Parks said he would like the developers to pitch their plans to the board at a meeting open to the public. Although details still are being worked out, he said he thought such a meeting might take place at the end of this month.

The public should get a chance to review the proposals and share their thoughts with commissioners before the board votes, Parks said Thursday.

"I want a lead time of about 10 days to give the public the opportunity to get off work if they want to and have some kind of public hearing," Parks said.

Meanwhile, Parks said he prefers the plan of North American Management-Kansas, which calls itself NORAM.

"Most of the people in my district want to save Britt Brown," Parks said of the aging arena, which is out of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. "I want to try to represent the people in my district."

NORAM said in its proposal that it would reduce seating at the arena but expand Britt Brown's use by adding on to the building to accommodate multiple events at the same time.

All three groups said they would continue use of the complex's pavilions, where many livestock and dog groups have held events since the Coliseum opened in 1978.

Parks called Hartman Arena's plan for Britt Brown "ambiguous." Hartman owns an arena near the Coliseum, which is at I-135 and 81st Street North.

Heritage says it would propose shutting Britt Brown until commissioners "can decide the best course of action for the arena." It would not allow spectators and the public in the building.

Hartman Arena's proposal said that it would only book events that could take place on the floor of Britt Brown to avoid any handicapped accessibility issues.

Wink Hartman Sr. said his arena's plan to manage the Coliseum for the county was to "offer a method by which the commission could keep the Coliseum open. We were just trying to help out if we could."

If another plan could do more for the county, Hartman said he would support the commission for choosing it.

Ben Sciortino, who is a spokesman for the Heritage proposal and who has worked as a lobbyist for The Eagle, said that Heritage believes it would take more money to bring Britt Brown up to ADA standards than it would to build the two new pavilions included in its plans.

"The other applicant feels he can do something with Britt Brown," Sciortino said. "In my perspective... new facilities would better accommodate the participant-type events we want to bring in."

Sciortino also said Heritage is open to additional commercial development along the I-135 corridor "but it just wasn't a main focus of ours."

Welshimer said she definitely wants to see the frontage along I-135 developed "for the highest and best use."

One stumbling block could be that the spotted skunk lives in a 26-acre area protected by the state along the Coliseum's frontage. Welshimer said it was her understanding that the county could swap out other land for the animal.

"There are so many details to work out," she said. "I'm not saying we can do that; we think we can."

Welshimer said there are advantages to parts of each plan but overall, at this point she prefers the NORAM plan.

Commissioners Tim Norton and Karl Peterjohn said they still are weighing each proposal.

"I'd have to hear a lot more detail before I'm going to sign up for any of them," Norton said. "There are components of all of them that I think are good, and some components I don't think are very good. There's nothing I'm supporting right now. Truthfully, I think I should hear from the public first."

Peterjohn said he wanted to see developers' full public presentations before making a decision.

Commissioner Dave Unruh said he wanted to wait to hear presentations from the developers and get a recommendation from staff before making a decision.

Unruh said he would not support any plan that would require substantial county investment or compete with Intrust Bank Arena, which is scheduled to open in January.

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