Politics & Government

Wichita privatizes $22 million soccer complex via a no-bid contract

Artist’s conception of Stryker Sports Complex stadium and indoor facility.
Artist’s conception of Stryker Sports Complex stadium and indoor facility. City of Wichita image

City Hall will turn over the operations and profits from the $22 million Stryker Sports Complex to a nearby sports business after assurances that the city’s biggest soccer league will be allowed to play there at least six days a year.

After a nearly two-hour debate Tuesday, the City Council voted 5-2 to turn the city-owned complex over to operators of the Wichita Sports Forum, an indoor sports venue close to Stryker near K-96 and Greenwich. Council members Brandon Johnson and Bryan Frye opposed the deal.

The initial contract runs 10 years, although there could be a financial review at the five-year mark to ensure the city is getting enough money to replace the artificial turf when it wears out.

Under the proposed agreement, the Sports Forum would pay the city about $130,000 to $140,000 a year to lease the fields for the first 10 years, with options to renew five years at a time after that.

The Stryker facility is undergoing a $22 million rebuild being paid for with STAR bond financing.

The city has borrowed money to replace 13 grass fields with 11 artificial-turf fields and construct an indoor soccer field building. That’s to be paid back by diverting the increased sales tax from the upgraded complex.

The idea behind the renovation was to convert the existing complex into a regional attraction to draw soccer tournaments from throughout Kansas and surrounding states.

Mayor Jeff Longwell said he was somewhat uncomfortable with handing over a mammoth city-owned facility without a competitive request for proposals.

But City Attorney Jennifer Magana said that isn’t required, and Longwell didn’t appear to have enough support on the council to tear up the deal with Sports Forum and put Stryker out to bid.

The prospect of having the complex managed by Sports Forum was part of the city’s pitch to get state approval for the bonds to fund the improvements, so no other management was considered.

The plan to turn Stryker over to the Sports Forum met with strong opposition from the nonprofit Sedgwick County Soccer Association, the city’s dominant soccer league.

Sports Forum plans to set up a competing for-profit league at Stryker.

SSCA supporters said Sports Forum’s league would prevent them from using the city-owned facility at Stryker, which will be newer and more appealing than their location at the South Lakes Soccer Complex in south Wichita.

Noelle Kramer, a businesswoman and former soccer player, objected to the no-bid contract. She said there could be other organizations that might have made a case that they could run it better.

“I don’t feel like we gave the community the opportunity to do the best that they could do,” Kramer said. “It could be good for the whole community and it could not just be a big argument over something (that will) turn into a for-profit youth sports program in our city.”

SCSA supporters also said having two leagues would be too much for the number of local youth soccer players, dividing the teams and upsetting their ability to match children with others at the same competitive level.

Mark Ohm, president of the soccer league, said talks with Sports Forum went nowhere. Sports Forum proposed a merger that would essentially amount to the SCSA giving its teams to the for-profit league and dissolving, he said.

He also said when SSCA officials asked for playing dates when they could rent time at Stryker in the first six months of next year, they were given a schedule that had already been filled in with nine weekends reserved for Sports Forum’s league games.

The only weekend times SCSA could get the fields were two weeks in February and one week in June, none of which were in the league’s playing season, he said.

Longwell broke the logjam with a compromise proposal.

Under the contract with Sports Forum, the city is guaranteed free use of the fields for 10 days a year.

Longwell offered SSCA six of those 10 days after securing a promise from Sports Forum owner Tymber Lee that he would make the days available during weekends within the soccer season.

Kevin Mullen, a builder who is part of the foundation that originally donated the Stryker complex to the city, said he supported Sports Forum managing the complex.

He said it had been underutilized since it was donated in 1996 and that a private manager would do a better job of attracting youth there to play, which was the intended purpose of the complex.

Lee said starting a league of his own was critical to his business plan.

He also said it was critical for business reasons for him to have full control of the facility and he could not share that with the nonprofit SCSA.

Dion Lefler; 316-268-6527, @DionKansas