Coliseum proposals raise questions

Good for Sedgwick County for giving members of the public, albeit belatedly, the opportunity to review and make up their own minds about the proposals for the Kansas Coliseum site. This way, county leaders can have the benefit of citizen input as they decide the venue's future.

Those with a stake in that future, as well as an appreciation for the Coliseum's past and limitations, should check out the proposals at the Web site www.sedgwickcounty.org and let county commissioners know what they think, either at a meeting promised later this month, or via e-mail or The Eagle's Opinion pages.

When the county went public last week with developers' proposals, it posted a statement on its Web site arguing that "responses and addendums to the Kansas Coliseum request for proposals (RFPs) are 'sealed bids' for purposes of the Kansas Open Records Act" that the "county is not obligated to produce" until the county commission takes final action on them.

We continue to disagree respectfully with the county's interpretation of the law: The law is on the side of transparency for RFPs. And it's unfortunate that the proposals show information redacted on key issues such as revenue sharing.

Still, the documents answer some questions: The plan from Hartman Arena looks to be the closest to the status quo. Heritage Development Group would prefer not to use accessibility-challenged Britt Brown Arena but instead build on the pavilions' strong reputation as a site of horse shows, while adding a hotel, restaurant and a new RV and truck sales and service center, and upgrading the camping area. The proposal from North American Management-Kansas is the most elaborate, calling for three hotels and retail space, extensive renovations of Britt Brown Arena, and an ambitious 206 events a year, including sports, conventions and trade shows as well as equestrian and livestock shows.

The documents raise questions, too.

Is the suburban Coliseum site really right for legally complex — and politically tricky — public investment tools such as tax-increment financing, community improvement districts or sales-tax-and-revenue bonds?

Although all three proposals specify they would not compete with Intrust Bank Arena, commissioners must take care not to step on the contract terms with arena management firm SMG.

And the links to tribal gambling of two of the leaders of the North American Management-Kansas bid have some people fretting about what else the group might have in mind for the neighborhood.

Sedgwick County has more than gotten its money out of the Kansas Coliseum, which cost $10.3 million when it opened in 1977. But if there was a lesson to come out of the county's most recent budget hearings, it was that the Coliseum, and especially its user-friendly pavilions, has a special place in the life of the community and region — a purpose worth fighting for. In the coming days, commissioners will need to try to serve that purpose as well as taxpayers' best interest.