Since Wichita City Council members fretted over setting a public hearing for today, the reasons for the council to endorse a Bowllagio sales-tax-and-revenue bond district have become more clear. The $95 million multiuse development at Kellogg and Maize Road involves no local tax incentives and could promote Wichita as a bowling mecca.
Local bowling alley owners have raised worthy concerns about whether public financing of a bowling center constitutes unfair competition or even makes sense in this economy. And there would be a regret in seeing the locally underused STAR bonds economic development tool facilitate a fringe project, rather than help revive downtown.
But judging from its concept and commitments so far, Bowllagio is not going to be your father's bowling alley.
Developer Jay Maxwell and his partners envision something unique to the region that, if it works here, could be replicated elsewhere. The facility would double as an entertainment center and a high-tech bowling training facility, with traditional lanes, private boutique lanes and a bowling history museum. It could host corporate events, tournaments, coaching sessions, and video gaming and laser tag.
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In addition, Atlanta, Ga.-based Nylo Hotels plans to build a 125-bed loft boutique hotel, with "bold architecture" and "amazing showers." Aaron Sanchez, a Food Network star and New York City executive chef, has committed to using the development to try out a fresh restaurant-bar concept, complete with tortilla station and "tequila cellar."
In the development's scope and potential to be a regional draw, it nicely fits the criteria for STAR bonds. Under the program, which famously helped revitalize the area around the Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Kan., the state uses incremental increases in sales taxes collected in the district to pay the principal and interest on bonds issued for project expenses such as land acquisition, site work, infrastructure and parking.
The Bowllagio developers want $13 million in STAR bonds; if the council approves, the request still must pass muster with the Kansas Department of Commerce.
The project has the potential to increase the annual property-tax revenue generated by the site from $30,000 to nearly $3 million, as it advances Wichita's long love affair with bowling.
Even considering the city's blown booking of the U.S. Bowling Congress Open Championships for 2011 and the closing of several local lanes, the sport remains uniquely at home here. That is in no small part because of the dynasty at Wichita State University, which the Shockers extended to a 10th men's national title at the Intercollegiate Team Championships in April (their third in a row). The WSU women have won nine titles. Plus, Wichita happily hosted the men's USBC Open Championships in 1989 and the women's in 2004.
As proposed, Bowllagio could serve the goal of getting the national bowling tournaments back. As it benefited quality of life and tourism, the development also would bring Wichita closer to heeding the good advice it got a decade ago from a nationally known tourism guru: "Own bowling."