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County OKs tax district for baseball stadium, riverfront development

The West Bank district stretches along the Arkansas River from Maple to Second Street, including Lawrence-Dumont Stadium and the site of the new downtown library. It also stretches into a part of Delano to Seneca.
The West Bank district stretches along the Arkansas River from Maple to Second Street, including Lawrence-Dumont Stadium and the site of the new downtown library. It also stretches into a part of Delano to Seneca. The Wichita Eagle

Sedgwick County commissioners approved a special taxing district to pay for improvements on downtown Wichita’s riverfront, including a renovated or redone stadium for baseball.

The commission voted 4-1 Wednesday to approve a Tax Increment Financing, or TIF, district along the west bank of the Arkansas River. Commissioner Richard Ranzau voted no.

The city of Wichita already approved the district, which would pay for infrastructure improvements with future taxes. That revenue will come from increased assessed property values that occur over the course of the district’s lifespan.

The West Bank district stretches along the river from Maple to Second Street, including Lawrence-Dumont Stadium and the location of the city’s new downtown library. It also stretches into a part of Delano to Seneca.

The city wants to use $45 million in public funds from a TIF district and STAR bonds, which capture sales tax revenue, to help build a multisport stadium, parking facilities and mixed-use commercial development.

Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce president Gary Plummer said the city of Wichita has been innovative with the plan.

“We think they have taken a lot of steps to minimize the costs to the citizens,” Plummer said.

Wichita Downtown Development Corporation president Jeff Fluhr said it would help create a “world-class” riverfront.

“This is a very important amenity as we move forward,” Fluhr said.

Commissioner Michael O’Donnell said he was excited about the development’s prospects for a city “at a critical time right now.”

“We are trying to retain our youth (and) our resources, which is going to benefit all of our employers,” O’Donnell said. “So having a project like this is great for the future of Wichita. It’s necessary.”

The county could have taken no action and let the district go into effect. O’Donnell encouraged commissioners to take that path, but he eventually voted for the motion to approve the district.

But Ranzau asked his colleagues to reject the district because it would have a negative effect on the county. Ranzau’s motion failed on a 4-1 vote.

Ranzau argued the TIF district would essentially “cannibalize” tax revenue outside its boundaries, hurting county services. He pointed to research showing TIF districts don’t live up to their promise.

“If it increases taxes inside but it hurts everything outside of it and we lose money there, that has an adverse effect,” Ranzau said. “In order to make an informed decision for our constituents, we need to understand how TIF districts affect communities.

“There are other less harmful ways to finance this plan,” he added.

Former commissioner Karl Peterjohn also criticized “subsidizing professional entertainment” by using TIF districts.

Daniel Salazar: 316-269-6791, @imdanielsalazar

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