Wink Hartman withraws coliseum proposal

Britt Brown Arena and the Sam Fulco pavilions make up the Kansas Coliseum.
Britt Brown Arena and the Sam Fulco pavilions make up the Kansas Coliseum. The Wichita Eagle

The simplest proposal pitched for the future of the Kansas Coliseum is off the table, leaving Sedgwick County commissioners with two more ambitious ideas to examine.

Hartman Arena LLC, which had proposed operating the Coliseum much as it is today, withdrew its plan Monday.

Wink Hartman said his company, Hartman Oil Co., already has 15 other corporations to maintain and that his pitch could be seen as a conflict of interest.

That's because Hartman also controls Hartman Arena, on the other side of I-135.

"We don't want the perception that there could have been an event at the Kansas Coliseum when in reality they booked the Hartman Arena," Hartman said.

County commissioners will examine the two remaining proposals at public meetings today.

"We're disappointed Hartman dropped out because it was a clear choice between development and operation," County Manager William Buchanan said. "But we'll move on from here."

The remaining proposals are:

* North American Management-Kansas, which proposes a $25 million project that would add three hotels and 250,000 square feet of mixed-use retail.

It will present its plan at 10:30 a.m. in the commission's chambers on the third floor of the courthouse, 525 N. Main.

* Heritage Development Group, which wants to build a $23 million venue called Saddle Rock Rodeo Resort, including new horse barns, two new pavilions, a hotel and an upgraded RV park.

The group will present its plan at 2:30 p.m.

The public can attend each presentation but won't be able to ask questions.

People can comment on an online forum that will be accessible after the final presentation. Commissioners will not vote today; it's unclear when they will.

Both groups would seek public help in financing their projects, which will face some resistance.

Commissioner Karl Peterjohn said he's reluctant to offer incentives such as tax increment finance districts or STAR bonds, which capture new sales tax for specific developments.

He said some people feel that such public-private ventures go together like peanut butter and jelly.

"Sometimes you end up with something more like..." he said, searching for an incompatible pairing, "a raw egg and mustard sandwich."

Commissioner Dave Unruh said that although Hartman's proposal did not seek such incentives, it did leave the county on the hook to pay for utilities, grounds maintenance and repairs.

"It did not seem to be a very attractive option to me," he said.

Unruh, like other commissioners, wants to cut losses at the Coliseum and reduce the county's responsibilities.

"I'm not sure that the proposals we have before us provide for a very secure proposal for going forward that secures investments and doesn't put Sedgwick County taxpayers on the hook," he said.

The presentations today come as commissioners prepare to vote Wednesday on a move that would put the county in control of most day-to-day management of the Coliseum instead of SMG, which had managed it since 2007.

That paves the way for a new group to take over — or for the county to continue management.

Buchanan said SMG was reluctant to manage the Coliseum along with Intrust Bank Arena.

"We didn't receive the type of marketing crossover that we expected," he said.

The move will free SMG to focus on Intrust Bank Arena.

It's unclear which county official will be appointed to oversee the Coliseum, Buchanan said.

The venue has struggled in recent years.

In 2007, the Coliseum's Britt Brown Arena made $317,000 and its pavilions lost $719,000. Last year, Buchanan said, Britt Brown made $172,000 and the pavilions lost $729,000.

Last year, the arena was in use 104 days, according to county figures. The pavilions were occupied 143 days.

The pavilions, which primarily attract animal shows and flea markets, are projected to lose more than a half million dollars a year.

Peterjohn and Commissioner Gwen Welshimer suggested that the county might have missed chances to improve that — and may have opportunities in the future.

About $1 million in needed improvements, mostly to the parking lot, have been identified, Assistant County Manager Ron Holt said.

Meanwhile, the county has more than $10 million in a parking and maintenance reserve fund, which could be used to improve the pavilions, Holt said.

But, he said, the county should not draw down too much on reserves that may be needed for other things.

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