Politics & Government

Wichita takes step toward building city ballpark

Lawrence-Dumont Stadium was built in 1934 and has been upgraded multiple times since.
Lawrence-Dumont Stadium was built in 1934 and has been upgraded multiple times since. File photo

The Wichita City Council took an early step Tuesday toward replacing Lawrence-Dumont Stadium with a new downtown baseball park. It also approved a financing plan to improve a soccer complex in northeast Wichita.

The council set a Dec. 6 public hearing on expanding an existing STAR bond redevelopment area along the Arkansas River, with an eye toward generating tens of millions of dollars to replace the venerable Lawrence-Dumont Stadium with a state-of-the-art minor league ballpark.

The council voted 4-0, with three members absent, to move forward on the plan, which also will include commercial development north of the stadium along McLean.

Lawrence-Dumont was built in 1934 and has been upgraded multiple times since, but player facilities and the overall fan experience still lag behind the industry. Replacing the stadium with a new facility would likely cost about $40 million to $50 million.

City Council members were adamant that the proposed project would not result in an increase in tax rates.

Through STAR bonds, a community borrows money to make major public improvements to spur new development, and then uses the increased sales tax from the development to pay off the debt.

For example, STAR bonds were used to develop the Kansas Speedway, a soccer stadium for Sporting KC, and surrounding commercial developments in Kansas City, Kan.

Lawrence-Dumont, at 300 S. Sycamore, is home field of the Wichita Wingnuts, an independent minor-league team.

City officials have expressed hope that a new stadium might attract a higher-level minor team affiliated with a Major League Baseball franchise.

The last MLB-affiliated team to play in Wichita was the Wranglers, a double-A team developing players for the Kansas City Royals.

Springdale, Ark., lured the Wranglers away to a new stadium that opened at the start of the 2008 season.

Mayor Jeff Longwell said Monday that the new field would include more and better luxury boxes and fan-friendly amenities around the stadium, along with upgraded locker-room facilities for the players.

Longwell said a new stadium with more off-the-field attractions would attract casual fans who might be only mildly interested in baseball, but more interested in the social experience of going to games.

The expanded STAR bond area would also include areas north of the stadium that are slated for a restaurant/bar/entertainment area.

City staff is currently evaluating proposals for development of city-owned property adjacent to the new library that’s under construction at the southwest corner of Second and McLean.

In addition to moving forward on the downtown project, the council also approved STAR bond funding for improvements to a soccer/baseball complex in northeast Wichita.

That action would expand the STAR bond area around the privately owned Wichita Sports Forum to take in the city-owned Stryker Soccer Complex near K-96 and Greenwich, said Mark Elder of the community development department.

The expanded STAR bond area would generate funding to improve the Stryker complex by adding lighting for night play and replacing grass fields with lower-maintenance artificial turf.

The city might also add more soccer and baseball fields.

The changes would allow the complex to host larger sports tournaments bringing in “significant out-of-state and regional visitors,” Elder said.

That, he said, “helps market Wichita as an indoor-outdoor sports destination,” generating revenue for area restaurants and hotels.