Wichitans can hope for an announcement on a new affiliated baseball team coming to Wichita by the end of 2017, Mayor Jeff Longwell says.
“By the end of this calendar year, we feel confident that we will be able to announce a team, who the team is, all of the above,” Longwell told The Eagle Tuesday afternoon. “We hope that we can complete all of those conversations by the end of this year and be able to announce a contract in place.”
City officials have been in discussions with minor-league baseball teams throughout the year about the possibility of relocating to Wichita to play in a new downtown ballpark, which would replace Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.
“There are multiple teams interested and we’re working our way through that list right now,” Longwell said. “So we are diligently working at bringing an affiliated team to Wichita.”
Longwell would not say if there was a frontrunner for relocation or what their affiliation would be.
“I know people are hungry and eager for what news can come out of our discussions,” Longwell said. “There’s a reason why we have to be so guarded.”
“It’s a process that doesn’t allow to say ‘Here’s who we are trying to bring to Wichita,’” he added. “Because at that point in time, there’s a half a dozen other cities that will want to go after them.”
Late last year, the Wichita City Council expanded a sales tax district in the downtown river area to potentially include a new ballpark. STAR bonds, or sales tax revenue bonds, would allow the city to borrow money for development and pay it back from future increases in sales tax collected in the district.
The commitment of an affiliated team is needed before the city can move forward on that process, Longwell said.
“We have to find an affiliated team … before we can scrape and start a new stadium,” he said. “Because it’s not renovating. It’s scraping what’s there and building a new stadium.”
Longwell said the private development potential from the new ballpark would be “big for any city.”
“It really, truly, will be the impetus for potentially hundreds of millions of dollars of redevelopment in the core of our city along the river corridor,” he said. “This is going to help create even more excitement and momentum.”