Wichita City Council to review rules for developers

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Work is complete on the city's new public investment guidelines for downtown revitalization, according to city and downtown development officials.

The guidelines go before the Wichita City Council on Tuesday.

The guidelines are a framework for government officials and developers to evaluate potential downtown retail and residential projects.

City officials stuck to their guns on the investment of taxpayer dollars: Generally speaking, no taxpayer money will go into private developer projects, said Allen Bell, the city's urban development director.

Instead, the city's investments will be targeted toward public assets downtown like parking lots and parks, especially where those assets can help trigger further development.

The guidelines, which have been tweaked this spring by city and downtown officials, also will provide assurances to potential downtown developers who don't want their personal financial statements made public.

Financial statements about the projects will remain open to the public, downtown officials said.

But Terry Cassady, the city's development assistance director, said the city will hire a third-party financial analyst so proprietary information about a developer's finances won't be subject to the Kansas Open Records Act and the information can remain private.

The city will receive a summary report from the third-party analyst.

"Being a government entity, we're subject to the Open Records Act," she said. "They (developers) had concerns about, you know, 'Am I going to see my financial information on the front page of The Eagle?' as an example."

The Open Records Act requires governments to withhold "any financial information of a personal nature required or requested by a public agency," and "income tax reports and returns." The law also allows governments to withhold "financial information submitted by (a) contractor in qualification statements" and "records owned by private persons which are not related to a governmental function."

Prospective developers will participate in a preliminary development conference with the Downtown Design Resource Center, a partnership between the city and the Wichita Downtown Development Corp., to help determine whether they qualify for incentives.

Then, developers will have to submit their plan, including the project design, business plan, developer background and experience, along with an $8,500 application fee.

The application and financial summary will be reviewed by a public-private team appointed by City Manager Robert Layton, with any recommendations for approval to the City Council.

If a project wins council approval, developers will be required to provide annual reports, including all sources and uses of private money in the project and an update of the progress toward completing the project.

Bell said the city will continue to market eight "catalyst" sites owned by the city in the downtown area:

* 225 N. McLean Blvd., 8.5 acres including Delano Park, the McLean Fountain, the Chisholm Trail marker, the West Bank Stage and a bicycle and pedestrian pathway.

* 151 N. Waco, 3.5 acres, including 3.1 acres west of Waco, currently used for parking, a bicycle and pedestrian pathway and a bus stop.

* Southwest of Maple and McLean at the river, 4.4 acres, currently vacant.

* 319 and 325 S. Broadway, 324 S. Market, 0.7 acres, currently used as parking.

* 200 S. Broadway, 1.8 acres, parking for the State Office Building.

* 500 S. Topeka, 0.5 acres, former fire station used for offices and storage.

* 114, 120 and 122 N. Emporia, 115 N. St. Francis and 500 E. Douglas, 0.9 acres, used for parking.

* 102 S. St. Francis, 1.1 acres, including Nafzger Park and parking.

Bids won't be sought for the sites in a request-for-proposal process once a potential developer emerges, he said.

Instead, the city will "treat them like urban renewal projects," Bell said, publishing a classified ad in The Eagle about the potential developer and inviting others to submit similar proposals.

The policy isn't intended to reflect badly on the past, Bell said.

"A lot of the things that were done, some worked out better than others. But they were needed and they got us to where we are now," he said. "And where we are now, I think, is we're ready to take the next step, go to the next level of downtown development."