Editorials

Time for city officials to slow down and be up front about ballpark development

Wichita getting new AAA baseball team, ballpark

(FILE VIDEO) Wichita mayor Jeff Longwell announced on Sept. 6, 2018, that Wichita would be the new home of the New Orleans Baby Cakes, a triple A affiliate of the Miami Marlins. A new ballpark would be build for the team.
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(FILE VIDEO) Wichita mayor Jeff Longwell announced on Sept. 6, 2018, that Wichita would be the new home of the New Orleans Baby Cakes, a triple A affiliate of the Miami Marlins. A new ballpark would be build for the team.

Wichita city leaders say they’re in a hurry.

That’s why they demolished Lawrence-Dumont Stadium so quickly and approved spending $81 million on a new ballpark before any agreement was signed.

That’s why they broke ground on the project without knowing how it would look or what tenants might sign on.

That’s why they now want to sell prime riverfront land for $1 an acre.

Whoa.

It’s time for Mayor Jeff Longwell and city leaders to slow down, speak up, answer questions, and be transparent with the public about plans for the proposed baseball stadium development.

Lou Schwechheimer, owner of the baseball team that intends to relocate from New Orleans to Wichita, told The Eagle that his club has “quietly met over the last several months” with business and civic leaders.

Key word: Quietly.

Schwechheimer says he’s “all in” for a lightning-speed partnership that would get his team playing in a new stadium by next spring. Longwell has said a Triple-A team will help Wichita recruit and retain talent, and would shed “the misperception that we’re a quiet little Midwestern town.”

That may be true. But without detailed information about what’s being promised and who will benefit, this looks like a back-room deal as shifty as a runner stealing home plate.

A Delano Neighborhood Plan, which has been in the works for more than a decade, was delayed last year so officials could complete the Ballpark Village Master Plan. That plan still is marked “draft” and leaves key questions unanswered, including street changes, traffic patterns, parking, and the precise location of a proposed pedestrian bridge over the Arkansas River.

It’s understandable that Wichitans would be a little wary of another public-private arrangement that promises grand development downtown.

A major selling point of Intrust Bank Arena was the promise of new businesses springing up all around the arena. It’s taken nearly a decade to see the first substantial development in the immediate area, with the Spaghetti Works District along East Douglas.

The WaterWalk development, just across the river from the proposed baseball stadium, cost $41 million in taxpayer subsidies and garnered nothing for the city from what was supposed to be a profit-sharing deal sweetener.

For months now, Wichita officials have said there’s nothing to report about plans for the new ballpark. At one point, Longwell even said he was under a “gag order” that prevented him from discussing details about a new team or plans for the stadium.

If Longwell and others want public support for the stadium and surrounding development, they need to reconsider their wait-and-see, just-trust-us strategy and start being up front about what’s in the works for that key piece of downtown property.

It’s public land, at least for the time being. And the public deserves clear answers, not a rush job.

Suzanne Perez Tobias, who has covered news in Wichita for nearly 30 years, writes editorials and opinion columns for The Eagle. An avid reader, she also oversees The Eagle’s books coverage and coordinates the annual #ReadICT Challenge. She can be reached at 316-268-6567.
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