The city is in discussions with minor-league baseball teams about the possibility of relocating to Wichita to play in a new renovated ballpark downtown.
City Council member Pete Meitzner said the city hopes its quest to replace Lawrence-Dumont Stadium will attract the interest of a team affiliated with a major-league club.
“The mayor is involved in two conversations with affiliated baseball,” Meitzner said Tuesday before the Senate Commerce Committee in Topeka. “Affiliation is the goal.”
Meitzner said Mayor Jeff Longwell, Assistant City Manager Scot Rigby and others have been trying to confirm which teams would seriously consider moving to Wichita.
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“They (minor-league teams) like new stadiums,” Meitzner said. “If the mayor was here, he’d say if he didn’t have a (potential new) stadium, he wouldn’t be able to have these conversations.”
In December, 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, allow cities to borrow money for development and pay it back from future increases in sales tax income from the district.
Rigby said the city would contribute utility and infrastructure work to improve the area around a stadium “to make it ready for development.” He said that could be paid for by capital improvement funds.
But some senators on the Commerce Committee were skeptical of the project using STAR bonds without money from a city-wide sales tax. The state and county have sales taxes, but not the city.
“Since Wichita does not have a sales tax, it’s a little bit out of the intent,” said committee chairwoman Sen. Julia Lynn, R-Olathe. “It’s not that we want to impede development, we want to have some security in knowing that these projects are carefully administered.
“The locals should have skin in the game, and that happens with that contribution,” Lynn said.
The locals should have skin in the game, and that happens with that contribution.
Sen. Julia Lynn, R-Olathe
Sen. Robert Olson, R-Olathe, said there needs to be more analysis about the economic benefit of the project.
“I think this is where STAR bonds are getting a bad rap,” Olson said. “It’s something the locals could do with a sales tax.
“I don’t know why we’re going down this rabbit hole with using STAR bonds instead of doing a local sales tax,” he added.
Sen. Bruce Givens, R-El Dorado, said the new stadium would likely draw people from out-of-state only once a year for the NBC World Series.
“It’s not going to draw people from Oklahoma City to drive up and watch a Wingnuts game there,” he said.
But he said the project could still be a fit for STAR bonds since the stadium could draw from around south-central Kansas.
Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita, said her constituents were excited about the prospect of a renovated baseball stadium. She asked Meitzner whether the city had reached out to residents about a sales tax increase to help with the project.
“It could be considered,” Meitzner responded. “But that’s not been part of the conversation.”
City spokesman Ken Evans said the city thinks the stadium project is “tailor-made” for STAR bonds.
This would be a regional attraction coupled with other regional attractions downtown.
City spokesman Ken Evans
“This would be a regional attraction coupled with other regional attractions downtown,” he said after the hearing.
Evans said the city has talked with at least two minor-league teams about relocation that they “feel very confident at the moment about.”