Politics & Government

Wichita’s new ball park expected to fit thousands more fans than Lawrence-Dumont

By the end of the year, Lawrence-Dumont Stadium will be a pile of rubble, clearing room for a ball park that will fit thousands more fans, according to a draft agreement awaiting city approval.

Wichita’s yet-to-be named stadium will have seating for 10,000 fans, the agreement says. That’s 3,600 more than 84-year-old Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.

Of those seats, 6,500 to 7,000 will be fixed seats. “Party and group” areas will fit 3,000 to 3,500 more fans, moving the number of available seats to around 10,000 for minor league baseball games, the draft agreement says.

The new stadium will host every home game for a Triple-A minor-league baseball team, formerly called the New Orleans Baby Cakes.

Seating, financing and a rough timeline were among the topics covered in a discussion of the agreement by Wichita City Council on Tuesday. The city council will take action on the agreement next week.

According to a timeline presented by Scot Rigby, assistant city manager for development services, Lawrence-Dumont is expected to be demolished by the end of the year. Construction on the new ball park will start in April and will be completed by March 15, 2020 — just in time for the 2020 season.

The city will pay as much as $83 million for the development project, which includes a pedestrian bridge across the Arkansas River. Development in the area is projected to draw 888,400 visitors a year, Rigby said.

The Triple-A team is expected to spend between $5 million and $7 million on furniture, fixtures and equipment at the stadium.

The National Baseball Congress Tournament will continue to be held at the new ball park. The agreement requires the team to make the stadium available for the NBC tournament for up to one week each season. The stadium will also be home to an NBC museum, to be operated by the new team.

The team will be responsible for maintaining the stadium and will keep revenue from tickets, concessions, sponsorships, parking, merchandise and media, except for city-sponsored events. The city may hold up to 10 events at the ball park each year, according to the proposed agreement.

The city will be responsible for capital repairs, replacement and improvements required “to ensure the Ballpark continues to meet the rules and standards of the Pacific Coast League and Minor League Baseball, the agreement says.

Need for pedestrian bridge questioned

The proposed pedestrian bridge would go in an area where there are already three bridges in a one-mile stretch of the Arkansas River west of Downtown.

City Council member Jeff Blubaugh, whose district includes the ball park, said he’s been getting a lot of questions about the need for a pedestrian bridge.

“One of the major questions I’m asked is, ‘Is a major pedestrian bridge necessary when you’ve got walkways to the north and south of that,’” Blubaugh said.

“The $8 million is for much more than just the pedestrian bridge,” Rigby said. “It’s riverfront improvements, which includes a pedestrian bridge, and the additional dollars for infrastructure.”

Rigby said the projected cost of the bridge “has not been determined yet.”

“That’s going to go through the design process,” Rigby said. “It just depends on what the final design is.”

The design for the ball park is expected to be completed sometime in February, Rigby said. The bridge would connect the ball park and the Century II Performing Arts Center.

How the ball park will be funded

In total, the city could spend as much as $83 million on the ballpark development under the proposed agreement. That price-tag includes $75 million on the stadium and $8 million on a pedestrian bridge, riverfront improvements and other “critical infrastructure necessary for the ballpark development,” Rigby said.

Taxpayer money going into the project will come largely from money spent in the area. STAR bonds, tax increment financing, community improvement district and general obligation bonds are expected to cover the costs of the project.

STAR bonds allow the city to borrow money to facilitate development and pay back the debt from future increases in sales tax income from the district.

The STAR districts that will pay for the ballpark project are along the east and west riverbanks north of Kellogg to the Keeper of the Plains.

The Kansas Department of Commerce approved $40 million in STAR bonds for the ballpark project.

Community Improvement District funds will come from an up-to 2-percent extra sales tax on all sales in a district.

City officials did not include a map of the area comprising the district.

“It is intended to be a larger area than just the stadium itself and take on the city parking area and additional properties that we are in discussion with, adjacent property owners,” Rigby said.

“The CID district would include land immediately north of the baseball stadium, the privately owned property, and we anticipated bringing WaterWalk in as well,” City Manager Robert Layton said.

Tax Increment Financing is when the city borrows money and spends it on a development, paying it back with an increase in property taxes that comes along with the new development.

The West Bank district stretches along the river from Maple to Second Street, including the stadium and the Advanced Learning Library. It also includes part of Delano to Seneca.

General Obligation Bonds will finance a portion of the project, according to city council documents.