Details of that lease weren’t made available to the public. Not to Sedgwick County Commissioners, either. So the public and even elected government officials don’t know anything about this contract, except for its term of five years.
This strikes me as bad government. The county has a deal with SMG that gives the management company broad latitude in operating the arena, including some profit-and-loss responsibility.
The arena, however, is still taxpayer-owned property. Furthermore, reading the management contract between SMG and Sedgwick County, I can see several ways in which SMG can wrangle free of its obligations. Believe me, the taxpayer is still on the hook.
So I believe we need to know the details of this lease made to the arena’s signature tenant. I made my case, based on my reading of the contract, in my post Wichita downtown arena contract seems to require Sedgwick County approval.
An inquiry sent to Assistant Sedgwick County Manager Ron Holt, the county’s point man for the arena, produced a response (see below) that indicates that the county has no intention of disclosing the terms of this lease agreement. Citizens must simply trust the county.
Part of the problem is that the arena has a competitor in the private sector, the newly-opened Hartman Arena. SMG is justifiably concerned about its contracts with tenants, which it considers proprietary information.
That’s fair enough — if SMG was a private company. But it’s one-half of a public-private partnership. It gets to use an asset valued at roughly $200 million, provided at no charge by the taxpayers of Sedgwick County, to see if it can earn a profit for itself. Our stake in this means we should get a look. The fact that SMG and the county will not disclose means that citizens will always wonder about the details of the deal.
This is especially true when government competes with private industry. Holt is already on record as being opposed to the privately-held Hartman Arena, remarking “overall, it would not be in the best interest of the community.”
Without disclosure, there will always be questions. It would be in the best public relations interest of SMG to agree for public disclosure of the terms of the Wichita Thunder lease.