Politics & Government

Wichita OKs $81 million for new stadium project, $2.2 million for Wingnuts to go

Wichita will spend as much as $81 million on building a new ballpark for the Triple-A baseball franchise that is planning to move to Wichita.

And the city will pay $2.2 million to the Wichita Wingnuts to break the independent baseball team’s lease at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, which will be torn down to make way for the new stadium. City officials hope to have the 84-year-old stadium demolished by the end of the year.

The new team, now known as the New Orleans Baby Cakes, will be responsible for maintaining the stadium and will keep all the revenue from tickets, parking, concessions and media.

Mayor Jeff Longwell announced last week that the Baby Cakes, a Triple-A affiliate of the Miami Marlins, have agreed to move to Wichita. It marks the return of Major League-affiliated baseball, a city goal since Wichita lost the Double-A Wranglers to Arkansas 10 years ago.

The new stadium itself will cost $75 million and must be competed by March 15, 2020. As part of the agreement, City Hall is also committing to build a $6 million pedestrian bridge across the Arkansas River.

The team will provide $5 million to $7.5 million for fixtures and equipment.

The team will pay the city a flat $350,000 a year to start as rent, with the amount to be adjusted for inflation every five years over the 20-year lease.

The ballpark will have 6,500 to 7,000 fixed seats and 15 to 18 luxury suites, plus a seating berm and party space for 3,000 to 3,500 people.

The team has agreed to make the stadium available for a week a year for National Baseball Congress World Series tournament games. The annual amateur tournament draws teams from across the country to Wichita.

The city will have the right to use the stadium 10 days a year for charitable and community events.

An emergency air travel fund of $200,000 will be established by the city and the team to assuage concerns by the team and the Pacific Coast League that Wichita may not have the frequency of air service to ensure the team can make it back and forth to games.

The new stadium will be paid for by diverting sales and property tax growth in the area. The city is also agreeing to increase the sales tax in the project area to help pay for the improvements.

Council members approved the plan, although one, Bryan Frye, said he was concerned that they got the documents shortly before the meeting.

“This is the first I’ve heard of the air travel (fund), which we didn’t have with the Wingnuts,” Frye said.

City Manager Robert Layton assured the council that there is still time to make changes in the agreement before the final deal is made.