In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Karl Peterjohn and Bob Weeks discuss some statistics regarding downtown Wichita and then the Kansas school finance court decision. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 169, broadcast October 14, 2017.
Now, WichitaLiberty.TV has new broadcast times. The regular Sunday broadcasts on KGPT TV channel 26.1 (AT&T U-Verse 49) at 8:30 am, repeated at 4:30 pm, are unchanged. Here is the full broadcast schedule:
Saturdays on KGPT channel 26.9 (Newsmax TV)
10:00 am: The new episode
10:30 am: Repeat of last week’s episode
5:00 pm: Repeat of new episode
5:30 pm: Repeat of last week’s episode
Sundays on KGPT channel 26.1/AT&T channel 49 (Cozi TV)
8:30 am: Repeat of the new episode
4:00 pm: Repeat of the new episode
4:30 pm: Repeat of last week’s episode
Downtown Wichita jobs, sort of. The claim of 26,000 workers in downtown Wichita is based on misuse of data so blatant it can be described only as malpractice.
The Rose Standards for Kansas students, as codified in K.S.A. 2016 Supp. 72-1127:
(1) Sufficient oral and written communication skills to enable students to function in a complex and rapidly changing civilization;
(2) sufficient knowledge of economic, social, and political systems to enable the student to make informed choices;
(3) sufficient understanding of governmental processes to enable the student to understand the issues that affect his or her community, state, and nation;
(4) sufficient self-knowledge and knowledge of his or her mental and physical wellness;
(5) sufficient grounding in the arts to enable each student to appreciate his or her cultural and historical heritage;
(6) sufficient training or preparation for advanced training in either academic or vocational fields so as to enable each child to choose and pursue life work intelligently; and
(7) sufficient levels of academic or vocational skills to enable public school students to compete favorably with their counterparts in surrounding states, in academics or in the job market.
A letter writer tells Wichitans that “We have an opportunity to show the country the future of Wichita is youthful and bright, and its growing from the core out.”
In support of replacing Century II with something “no less than absolutely spectacular in ambition,” a letter in the Wichita Eagle states, “We have an opportunity to show the country the future of Wichita is youthful and bright, and its growing from the core out.” 1
Sadly, these observations are not true. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that the median age of Wichitans is rising, the proportion of the population in the millennial category is static or shrinking slightly, and the proportion that are senior citizens is rising. Wichita is growing older, not younger.
As far as “growing from the core out,” the downtown population is up. Although: The increase from 2010 to 2015, proportional to the entire city, was only slightly greater. In 2010, 0.36 percent of Wichitans lived in downtown, rising only slightly to 0.37 percent in 2015. (These are Census figures for zip code 67202, which is downtown Wichita.)
If we gauge growth by the number of jobs, business establishments, and payroll in downtown, we find that downtown Wichita is shrinking. There is some controversy regarding how to measure the number of jobs in downtown Wichita, but by any measure, the number of jobs is declining. 23
Source of data is Wichita Downtown Development Corporation: State of Downtown Report for 2016 and 2012 Downtown Economic report, plus author’s calculations. Click tables and charts for larger versions.
As can be seen in the nearby charts, the number of jobs has been on a mostly downhill trend.
There is, however a serious problem with this data series, as it includes workers whose “administrative home” is downtown, even though they work somewhere else. The Census Bureau makes this caveat clear to users of this data. 2 Because all Wichita school district employees have an “address” of 201 N. Water in downtown Wichita, they appear in the LODES data series as employees with that address.
It is a serious mistake to count all Wichita school district employees as downtown workers. Most school employees work in schools and other sites scattered throughout the city, not in downtown. Further, this year the school district moved its administrative offices to the former Southeast High School building at Lincoln and Edgemoor. That’s in zip code 67218, not 67202. The effect of this on the LODES statistics (it will appear that some 7,000 workers have moved out of downtown Wichita) probably won’t appear for two or three years.
Even if we use the data series promoted by the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation, the trend in jobs is in the wrong direction. WDDC promotes the large investment in downtown Wichita, by both private and public sources. 3 But employment is trending in the opposite direction. 4
But this data series is not useful as a measure of the number of people working in downtown Wichita, as it overstates the true number. The LODES data is widely cited by the City of Wichita and affiliated agencies such as WDDC and the Wichita Chamber of Commerce. 5 It appears prominently in the State of Downtown report produced by WDDC, generally released on May of each year. So far, there is no report for this year.
U.S. Census Bureau. LEHD Origin-Destination Employment Statistics Data (2002-2015) [computer file ↩
In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Karl Peterjohn and Bob Weeks continue discussing Century II, Wichita’s convention and performing arts center. But first, some unfortunate economic news for Wichita. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 166, broadcast September 24, 2017.
The report produced for the City of Wichita on Century II has a disclaimer that absolves pretty much everyone from any accountability.
The document is titled “Funding and Delivery Options Analysis for the Century II Facility Expansion: Delivery and Funding Strategy.” It was produced by Arup Advisory Inc. at a cost to the city of $294,000. The entire document is available at https://goo.gl/hq9iqR.
Following is the disclaimer at the front of the report. It is typical of what is found in reports produced by economic development consultants. It establishes several large loopholes for Arup, the City of Wichita, and boosters of public spending on downtown like Wichita Downtown Development Corporation and the Chamber of Commerce.
Current accepted professional practices and procedures were used in the development of this report. However, as with any forecast, there may be differences between forecasted and actual results. The report contains reasonable assumptions, estimates, and projections that may not be indicative of actual or future values or events and are therefore subject to substantial uncertainty. Future developments cannot be predicted with certainty, and this may affect the estimates or projections expressed in this report, consequently Arup specifically does not guarantee or warrant any estimate or projections contained in this report.
This document is intended only for the information of the City. It is not intended for and should not be relied upon by any third party, and no responsibility is undertaken to any third party.
Our findings are based on limited technical, financial, and commercial data concerning the project and its potential delivery options. Arup has relied upon the reasonable assurances of independent parties and is not aware of any facts that would make such information misleading.
We must emphasize that the realization of any prospective financial information set out within our report is dependent on the continuing validity of the assumptions on which it is based. We accept no responsibility for the realization of the prospective financial information. Actual results are likely to be different from those shown in the prospective financial information because events and circumstances frequently do not occur as expected, and the differences may be material.
Workshop presentation: On September 12, 2017, the city held a workshop on the future of Century II Performing Arts & Convention Center. Here is a link to the presentation that was used. It is a pdf document. https://goo.gl/whqWJC
The consultant’s report: The Wichita City Council hired a consultant to analyze Century II and the future of a convention center and performing arts center. Here is a link to the report the consultant, Arup, filed. It is a pdf document. https://goo.gl/hq9iqR
In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Community influencer John Todd joins Karl Peterjohn and Bob Weeks to discuss Century II, Wichita’s convention and performing arts center. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 165, broadcast September 17, 2017.
In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Bob Weeks and Karl Peterjohn discuss issues regarding the Wichita and Kansas economies. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 163, broadcast September 3, 2017.
Wichita employment trends. While the unemployment rate in the Wichita metropolitan area has been declining, the numbers behind the decline are not encouraging.
Downtown Wichita business trends. There has been much investment in Downtown Wichita, both public and private. What has been the trend in business activity during this time?
Wichita downtown plan focused on elite values, incorrect assumptions. One of the themes of those planning the future of downtown Wichita is that the suburban areas of Wichita are bad. The people living there are not cultured and sophisticated, the planners say. Suburbanites live wasteful lifestyles. Planners say they use too much energy, emit too much carbon, and gobble up too much land, all for things they’ve been duped into believing they want.
Charts shown in the show: (Click charts for larger versions.)
The matter under consideration was a redevelopment plan for Naftzger Park in downtown Wichita. Approval was necessary if tax increment financing (TIF) funds could be spent on the park. 1 TIF is a mechanism whereby future tax revenues are redirected towards a specific purpose, usually to the benefit of a private property owner. 2
The “plan” under consideration was solely the financing plan. No actual design for a future Naftzger Park was considered or selected.
At the council meeting — and at many other meetings and online discussions — people have noted that the city is planning to spend money on the redesign of Naftzger Park while at the same time there are, according to them, unmet needs throughout the city: Closing swimming pools, assistance for homeless, inadequate staffing of the police department, etc. Why, they ask, can’t the Naftzger Park money be used to solve these problems?
The admonishment of Williams — “These tax dollars are not your tax dollars” — was directed at this criticism. She is correct: The mechanism of TIF allows for these dollars to be spent on just one thing, and that is the redesign of Naftzger Park. 3
So in one way, they aren’t our tax dollars. They are being spent in the way that TGC Development Group, the owner of adjacent property, wants them spent. 4
But this upends the rationale and justification for taxation.
In Wichita, as in most cities, the largest consumers of property tax dollars are the city, county, and school district. All justify their tax collections by citing the services they provide: Law enforcement, fire protection, education, etc. It is for providing these services that we pay local taxes.
Within a TIF district, however, the new property tax dollars — the increment — do not go to the city, county, and school district to pay for services. Instead, these dollars are used in ways that benefit private parties.
Yet, the new development will undoubtedly demand and consume the services local government provides — law enforcement, fire protection, and education. But its incremental property taxes do not pay for these, as they have been diverted elsewhere. (The base property taxes still go to pay for these services, but the base is usually low.) Instead, others must pay the cost of providing services to the TIF development, or accept reduced levels of service as existing service providers are saddled with increasing demand.
Supporters of TIF argue that TIF developers aren’t getting a free ride. The city isn’t giving them cash, they say. The owners of the TIF development will be paying their full share of higher property taxes in the future. All this is true. But, these future tax dollars are spent for their benefit, not to pay for the cost of government.
In the case of Naftzger Park, the situation is murkier. Usually TIF funds are spent on things that directly benefit the private development, things like property acquisition, site preparation, utilities, and drainage. In this case, the TIF funds are being spent to redesign a public park — and a park that many people like.
But it’s clear that the present state of Naftzger Park is a problem for TGC. A newly redesigned park will effectively serve as the “front yard” for TGC’s projects, and will greatly benefit that company. Now that the park redesign will be financed with TIF, this new park comes at no cost to TGC.
Contrary to Council Member Williams and the others who voted in favor of the TIF redevelopment plan: These are our tax dollars. Redirecting them for private benefit has a cost. A real cost that others must pay. If we don’t recognize that, then we must reconsider the foundation of local tax policy.
The developers of property near Naftzger Park in downtown Wichita will possibly receive millions in other subsidy.
The powerful impetus to redevelop Naftzger Park in downtown Wichita is attributed to two sources: The NCAA basketball games in March and the desire of TGC Development Group to develop property it owns near the park.
How much motivation comes from which source depends on who you ask. But it’s clear that the present state of the park is a problem for TGC. A newly redesigned park will effectively serve as the “front yard” for TGC’s projects, and will greatly benefit that company. If the park redesign is paid for with tax increment financing, or TIF, this new park comes at no cost to TGC.
But this is likely not the only benefit TGC will receive from taxpayers. The building TGC owns near Naftzger Park is commonly known as the “Spaghetti Works” building. Before that it was known as the Wichita Wholesale Grocery Company. Under that name, the property was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. 1 Then, in 2016 conditional approval was given for federal historic preservation tax credits. 2
These federal tax credits are worth 20 percent of the cost of rehabilitating historic structures. 3 These credits may be used dollar-for-dollar when paying federal income taxes, or they may be sold for cash, usually at a discount, and someone else uses them — instead of cash — to pay taxes they owe.
So when TGC spends, say, $1,000,000 on the building, it will receive — conceptually — a slip of paper valued at $200,000. It may use this instead of cash to pay its taxes, or it may sell it to someone else.
That’s not all. Although there is no application at this time, it’s likely that TGC will also apply for Kansas tax credits. These are like the federal credits, except they are for 25 percent of the rehabilitation costs. 4
Together these tax credits can pay up to 45 percent of the costs of rehabbing this building.
These tax credits have a real cost. As long as state or federal government does not reduce spending by the amount of these credits, and specifically because of these credits, other taxpayers have to pay.
Additionally, these tax credits are inefficient. When Kansas Legislative Post Audit looked at Kansas tax credits, it found that when sold, the state receives 85 cents of project value for each dollar foregone. 5
There are many reasons why historic preservation tax credits should be eliminated. 67 But for now, it’s important to know that a redesigned Naftzger Park is not the only economic subsidy the nearby private property owners are likely to receive.
“The Historic Preservation Tax Credit isn’t cost-effective. That credit works differently than the other three because the amount of money a historic preservation project receives from the credit is dependent upon the amount of money it’s sold for. Our review showed that, on average, when Historic Preservation Credits were transferred to generate money for a project, they only generated 85 cents for the project for every dollar of potential tax revenue the State gave up.” Kansas Legislative Post Audit. Kansas Tax Revenues, Part I: Reviewing Tax Credits. Available at http://www.kslpa.org/assets/files/reports/10pa03-1a.pdf. ↩
One of the issues surrounding Naftzger Park in downtown Wichita is land ownership.
Information from the Sedgwick County Online Map Portal shows land parcels and ownership. The nearby illustration shows Naftzger Park and its environs. (I don’t think it’s possible for me to save a link that brings you directly to the map as I’ve shown it.) On this map, the two parcels owned by private owners are outlined in orange. The City of Wichita or the Board of Park Commissioners own the other parcels north of William Street.
We can see that the park is built partially on land owned by private owners. City officials have said that a narrow strip of land on the east side of the park is involved. From this map we can see that the situation is more complex.
It would be interesting to learn how this mistake — if that’s what it is — occurred. At one time the city owned the entire block after it acquired land to reform what was skid row.
On Tuesday August 15 the Wichita City Council will hold a public hearing to consider authorizing spending TIF funds on Naftzger Park.
This week the Wichita City Council is scheduled to hold a public hearing on a new redevelopment project plan for a tax increment financing (TIF) district in downtown Wichita. The redevelopment project plan contemplates transforming Naftzger Park. The hearing is part of the regular council meeting at 9:00 am Tuesday August 15 at city hall.
While the city has held four public meetings on the topic of Naftzger Park redesign, these meetings were not legally required. But the Tuesday public hearing is required, as city documents explain: “In order to establish the legal authority to use tax increment financing the City Council must adopt a redevelopment project plan for a project area, within the district, which provides more detailed information on the proposed project, how tax increment financing would be used and demonstrates how the projected increase in property tax revenue will amortize the costs financed with tax increment financing.” 1
As for providing “more detailed information on the proposed project,” the redevelopment project plan supplied by the city is quite generic. This week the project architect presented four plans at public meetings. But these drawings cannot be found online — not on the city’s website, its Facebook page, or the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation — except for unclear photographs.
The redevelopment project plan describes how to pay for the redesign of Naftzger Park: “Improvements on the adjacent site are anticipated to generate the revenue necessary to fund the improvements to Naftzger.” This is the mechanism of tax increment financing: Future property taxes are redirected from their normal course and funneled back to benefit the development. The city correctly notes that the TIF funds are being used to develop a public park, not a private development. But the private property owner obviously considers the present park a problem. A new park will effectively serve as the “front yard” for new development and will be of great benefit to the owner. And, many people are opposed to changing the park.
From the redevelopment project plan: “The City will provide public funding, including tax increment financing and general obligation bond financing to finance the project costs.” 2 That is, there is additional spending contemplated.
“Tax increment funds may also be used to pay for eligible improvements financed through general obligation bonds and to reimburse additional eligible project costs when additional tax increment revenues are available.” 3 Here, the redevelopment project plan hints at more property tax being redirected to the development.
“It is assumed that Project construction will begin in 2018 and be completed before the end of 2023, and therefore achieve full valuation by January 1, 2024. It is estimated that in 2024 the property tax increment will be $163,970.” 4 These projections are highly speculative. The city’s record in projecting future development in current TIF districts is spotty. See WaterWalk, Ken-Mar, etc.
“Park improvements are projected to costs approximately $3,000,000, with $1,500,000 of such costs to be financed from proceeds of the City’s full faith and credit tax increment bonds (the “Bonds”).” 5 Here the redevelopment project plan reminds readers that if future property taxes are insufficient to pay the bonds, the city itself is liable. The city exacts an agreement from TIF developers that if TIF revenue is insufficient that the developers will pay the difference, but the city’s record in enforcing these agreements is spotty. 6
“Incremental tax revenue available after the payment of such Bonds may be used to pay for additional TIF-eligible Project costs related to Park improvements on a pay-as-you-go basis or reimburse the debt service on City general obligation bonds issued to finance a portion of the cost of the Park improvements, if any.” 4 Again, the redevelopment project plan hints that future park spending may be paid for with TIF.
The table titled “Projected Tax Increment Report” is subtitled with the name of a different project. This is probably an error without much consequence, as someone in the city probably reused a spreadsheet from a similar project and forgot to revise the title. The same error appears in a second table of figures titled “Projected Bond Cash Flow Report.” Except: The city made this same error in previous versions of this document, as I reported earlier. 8 We’re left to wonder whether anyone — at city hall, the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation, or the private developers who will benefit from this spending — care to correct errors like this.
The first table projects the assessed value — and by implication, also the appraised or market value — of property through the year 2036. These projections are highly speculative.
In a section titled “Description of Naftzger Park Project” we see an item titled “TIF Pay-as-you-go Costs” with the amount given as $1,500,000. This spending was mentioned in earlier city documents, but hasn’t received much public discussion. The $1.5 million figure that is in the news is from “regular” TIF financing. In that case, the city borrows money, and the debt is repaid from future property taxes. With the pay-as-you-go TIF, the city simply spends future property taxes in the project. 9 The difference is that in regular TIF, the city is liable for the debt if future incremental taxes are insufficient to cover bond payments. In pay-as-you-go TIF, there is no debt, only redirection of property taxes from their normal distribution.
For more about Naftzger Park, see these articles and other information from Voice for Liberty:
WichitaLiberty.TV: Naftzger Park. Wichita Assistant City Manager and Director of Development Scot Rigby joins hosts Bob Weeks and Karl Peterjohn to discuss the plans for Naftzger Park. Then, Bob and Karl continue the discussion.
City of Wichita. Comprehensive Financing Feasibility Study for the Naftzger Park Project within the Center City South Redevelopment District City of Wichita, Kansas. Available in the August 15 agenda packet. ↩
In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Wichita Assistant City Manager and Director of Development Scot Rigby joins hosts Bob Weeks and Karl Peterjohn to discuss the plans for Naftzger Park. Then, Bob and Karl continue the discussion. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 161, broadcast August 13, 2017.
The City of Wichita seeks a construction manager for the construction of Naftzger Park.
The request for qualification is titled “CONSTRUCTION MANAGER AT RISK to Construct Naftzger Park.” On the city’s purchasing website the relevant information is contained in five separate documents. I’ve gathered them together in one document, which you may access here.
The city may be getting ahead of itself. The RFQ sets the deadline for submissions as 2:00 pm Tuesday August 15. That morning is when the Wichita City Council will consider approval of the redevelopment project plan. 1 Until that plan is approved by a two-thirds majority of the council, there exists no authorization to spend funds from a tax increment financing district. 2
Referring to the planning process for downtown Wichita in 2008 and 2009, the document says, “Since that time downtown Wichita has experienced record growth.” This statement isn’t true. Since that time there are fewer business establishments, fewer people working downtown, and lower earnings generated in downtown Wichita. In all cases, the trend is lower. 3 There is growth in people living downtown.
Something new appears in this paragraph: “Design and construction are planned to be implemented in phasing to accommodate budget, with the first phase budget of $1,500,000 for design, project administration and construction. The first phase budget will provide for an open and usable park that accommodates as many programming features as budget allows. In addition to the $1,500,000 for phase one, there will also be approximately $500,000 worth of cross site work, demolition, and infrastructure to be completed on the adjacent property.”
The document doesn’t specify the source of the $500,000, and this is the first mention of that sum, as far as I know. But the fact that management of it is included in this RFQ is more evidence that the redesign of Naftzger Park is really a project being done for the benefit of the nearby private landowner.
Later, more evidence of the park’s importance to, and benefit of, one company: “Because of the adjacent location and utilization of the park as it relates to the Spaghetti Works Development, it is necessary that TGC’s team play an integrated role; so that the flow and function developed in the park work seamlessly together with the TGC project.”
Just to emphasize, the proposals are not sent to city hall but to the private company that will benefit from the park redesign: “Sealed Request for Proposal will be received in the office of the TGC Development Group, 125 N Emporia, Suite 202, Wichita, KS 67202, Attn: Blake Heiman.”
And who will make the decision? An addendum to the RPQ holds: “A Selection Committee consisting of staff from various City department and TGC will evaluate submissions.”
The city has provided an illustration of what a potential redesign might look like. There has been much criticism — including by city council members — especially for the covering of the park with artificial turf. But, the RFQ states: “A summary of programmatic elements will include a flexible use lawn area (with potential of artificial turf).”
For more about Naftzger Park, see these articles and other information from Voice for Liberty:
WichitaLiberty.TV: Naftzger Park. Wichita Assistant City Manager and Director of Development Scot Rigby joins hosts Bob Weeks and Karl Peterjohn to discuss the plans for Naftzger Park. Then, Bob and Karl continue the discussion.
The City of Wichita says it retains final approval on the redesign of Naftzger Park, but a contract says otherwise.
As part of the proposed redesign of Naftzger Park in downtown Wichita, an architectural firm has been engaged, and a contract agreed to. I’ve made the document available through Google Drive here.
In responding to my request for the contract, the city included this information:
The Naftzger Park design contract you requested is between SWA Balsley and TGC Development Group. SWA has provided a copy of the draft agreement. The City has coordinated with TGC in this effort to ensure that the selection process followed City procedures. The City Council has taken action to select SWA as the design team and did accept the design funding proposal of SWA Balsley, but is not a party to the design contract. The City is utilizing this collaborative approach to take advantage of the experience and expertise in project management of TGC Development in this unique project. Any final Naftzger Park design approval is retained by the Parks Board and the City of Wichita.1 (emphasis added)]
As stated, and according to the language of the contract, the parties to the contract are SWA/Balsley Landscape Architects, P.C. (“SWA/Balsley”) and TGC Development Group, which is referred to as the “Client.” The City of Wichita is not the Client; that party is a private business firm. And not just any private firm, but one that owns property abutting Naftzger Park and is clearly looking to rebuild the park according to its needs and profitability, not what is good for the city at large.
As to the city’s contention that final approval is retained by it alone, the contract holds language like this:
“Upon the Client’s authorization to commence design development …”
“Upon the Client’s approval of the design development plans and preliminary cost estimate …”
“SWA/Balsley shall prepare and process change orders only with prior approval of the Client.”
(The document is covered with a large watermark that obscures parts of its text. As the document is encrypted, there is no way to remove the watermark without the password, as far as I know.)
Remember, the city is not the Client. TGC Development is the Client.
Here is a paragraph near the end of the contract:
“As material inducement to SWA/Balsley to enter into this agreement, Client represents it warrants that it has full authority to bind the City to the terms of this Agreement, and that the City will assume full responsibility for payment.” (emphasis added)
There’s a discrepancy here. The city says final approval rests with it alone, but TGC Development has agreed to a contract which states it can bind the city to an agreement.
By the way, if you thought the Naftzger Park redesign was a $1.5 million project, think again, as this language from the contract shows:
“Based upon our understanding of the project, the park design should encompass the vision as described in the RFQ and be planned with phased implementation. Conceptual and Schematic Design phases were based on a complete vision of an estimated $3,000,000 budget. Design Development, Construction Documentation, and Construction Observation, which are to be completed under Phase One, are established at $1,500,000. The fee quoted in this proposal is based upon this present understanding and these budgetary figures.”
Correspondence from Lauragail Locke of the Wichita City Manager’s Office, August 3, 2017. ↩
Wichita doesn’t need to ruin a park for economic development, as there are other areas that would work and need development.
One of the reasons for the redesign of Naftzger Park in downtown Wichita is to increase economic development. A city council agenda held, “These recommendations include opening up the park to provide for increased walking and public activity as well as to encourage development adjacent to the park.” 1
Other city documents say the redesign of the small downtown Wichita park is to, “create a continuous flex space for multi-use; i.e. Tai Chai, as well as other passive use activities including but not limited to weddings, concerts, performances, films, special celebrations and parties as well as quiet contemplation.” 2
In other documents city officials have promoted the need for gathering space before and after events at Intrust Bank Arena.
All this is fine. But current plans call for the destruction of an existing park and its transformation into this new design.
But there’s no need to destroy an existing park in order to meet the goals of the city. There is a lot of vacant and underutilized land immediately south and west of the arena. Any of this could be transformed to what the city wants. Development of these areas would possibly help fulfill the promise of the arena as a driver for economic development and growth.
Today, 12 years after the identification of the arena’s site and seven years after its opening, there is little activity around the arena to its west and south. Five years ago the Wichita Eagle noted the lack of growth in the area.
“Ten years ago, Elizabeth Stevenson looked out at the neighborhood where a downtown arena would soon be built and told an Eagle reporter that one day it could be the ‘Paris of the Midwest.’ What she and many others envisioned was a pedestrian and bike-friendly neighborhood of quaint shops, chic eateries and an active arts district, supported by tens of thousands of visitors who would be coming downtown for sporting events and concerts. It hasn’t exactly turned out that way. Today, five years after the opening of the Intrust Bank Arena, most of the immediate neighborhood looks much like it did in 2004 when Stevenson was interviewed in The Eagle. With the exception of a small artists’ colony along Commerce Street, it’s still the same mix of light industrial businesses interspersed with numerous boarded-up buildings and vacant lots, dotted with ‘for sale’ and ‘for lease’ signs.” 3
Since then, not much has changed. The area surrounding the arena is largely vacant. Except for Commerce Street, that is, and the businesses located there don’t want to pay their share of property taxes.4
On the other hand, the area around Naftzger Park is developing. The city points to Old Town as a success, and now promotes the “Douglas Corridor” as an area where city policies have produced growth, with more yet to come as Cargill and a call center move to a location near Naftzger Park.
But the areas on the other side of the arena are not growing. Doing something to jump-start development in that stagnant area could help downtown growth. Paying attention to that area would fulfill past promises and projections, and increase the credibility of Wichita’s leaders.
Nearby are photographs of the area surrounding the arena to the east and west. Click photos for larger versions.
What was said
Following, a few quotes from civic leaders in 2005.
“On the brink of spending $55 million to renovate the Kansas Coliseum, the community saw the wisdom of investing that kind of money instead in downtown Wichita, where it could spur development, lure conventions and enhance Old Town and the planned WaterWalk development. The action on behalf of an arena has offered the strongest signal in years that Wichita, booming fringes and all, still wants a vibrant, functional downtown. 5
Imagine sports fans and concertgoers flocking to restaurants and shops in a lively, distinctive district surrounding Wichita’s new downtown entertainment arena. Can the 15,000-seat venue be the Pied Piper of economic development? City officials hope so.
“It will have a profound change,” Wichita Mayor Carlos Mayans said. He envisions a modern, sophisticated district, home to a four-star hotel, apartment buildings, high-end retailers, a Cajun restaurant – maybe a Hard Rock Cafe. “The things happening downtown are going to change downtown Wichita for the 21st century,” he said.
Officials view the arena as another opportunity to coax more life into downtown. The city is hunting for a consultant to help it cash in on development opportunities surrounding the arena. 6
While Sedgwick County lays the groundwork for its 15,000-seat downtown arena, the city of Wichita is busy trying to plan for everything that will go around it. The city wants the advice and expertise of a consultant to help it develop a lively, distinctive district to jump-start — and cash in on — downtown redevelopment. 7
The arena will cause spillover development, but the city must carefully set the conditions to foster economic development, said Dave Knopick, an urban planner with Gould Evans Associates, the consultants hired to study the arena area. This includes attractive streets and public features, adequate parking, good traffic flow, zoning to bring in wanted businesses, and even deals with developers to bring in new projects. “These are once-in-a-lifetime events that have a huge impact, so you have to make the right decision to maximize the benefits,” Knopick said. …
The arena is a key part of the downtown revival, but it’s just one piece. “It’s a redeveloping area, but those changes may take place over 10 or 15 years,” Knopick said. “It won’t all just happen because the arena was built.” 8
The most exciting development: a new downtown arena. Whatever the final site selection (we vote for the east site), the reality is sinking in that this major community project will have a heavyweight impact on the core area. The naysayers said none of this could happen — in fact, they said the same thing about Old Town. It’s happening.
Things change — and sometimes change is disruptive and hard to accept. But Wichitans should be excited by what’s happening downtown.
I would like to congratulate the city leaders and the public for their insight and willingness to see the impact that the development of downtown will have for the citizens of Wichita and all of south-central Kansas. We only stand to benefit from this much-needed injection into the economy.
It is about re-energizing this community, spurring economic development, creating jobs, quality of life, encouraging tourism from around the region, and bringing money into our community.
The WaterWalk development and the downtown arena are only the beginning of the potential for downtown to flourish and continue to fuel other economic development. Wichita has an opportunity to become a viable destination stop. And these projects can help support many of the other amenities already available in the city, such as the museums along the river, the ice center, Old Town and so many other businesses and attractions. 10 Richard L. Taylor of Wichita is business manager for the Building and Construction Trades Council of Central and Western Kansas.
Wichita city council agenda packet, July 18, 2017. Item IV-3. ↩
In Wichita, a space for outdoor concerts may be created across the street from where amplified concerts are banned.
One of the City of Wichita’s stated purposes for the redesign of Naftzger Park in downtown Wichita is to, “create a continuous flex space for multi-use; i.e. Tai Chai, as well as other passive use activities including but not limited to weddings, concerts, performances, films, special celebrations and parties as well as quiet contemplation.” 1
There may be a problem, however. Directly across the street from Naftzger Park lies Gallery Alley. This is a new development whereby an alley was converted to a space for events, like concerts. Not long after the alley’s first events, the Wichita Eagle reported this:
But it was too much for the neighbors, according to Jason Gregory, executive vice president of Downtown Wichita.
“It’s just the amplified sound — we’re just trying to be respectful to those buildings there, that have a mix of uses,” Gregory said. “There’s residences there, and obviously when you get high-bass subwoofers, you’re basically hearing that through the building.” 2
Now, right across the street from Gallery Alley, directly across St. Francis from residences at the former Eaton Hotel, directly across Douglas from the Zelman Lofts, and catty-corner from the Lofts at St. Francis, the city proposes creating an outdoor space for — get ready: Concerts and parties.
By the way, the proposed use of the parking lot that abuts Naftzger Park is a “high-end mixed-use development” possibly including a hotel. I don’t know if this use is consistent with parties and concerts in its front yard.
A City of Wichita town hall meeting ends in less than nine minutes, with a question pending and unanswered.
As part of its engagement with citizens, the City of Wichita holds social media town hall meetings. On June 20, 2107, there was a Facebook town hall on the topic of economic development featuring Assistant City Manager Scot Rigby. His charge is “developing and implementing a coordinated and comprehensive development services program and for developing, implementing and overseeing economic development, redevelopment and real estate programs and projects.” He’s worked for the city for two years. 1
There is not a customary duration for events like this, although other social media town halls have been promoted by the city as lasting 90 minutes. Surely citizens might expect any meeting like this to last at least 30 minutes, if not 60 or more.
But Wichita Assistant City Manager Scot Rigby’s town hall meeting on June 20 lasted eight minutes and 22 seconds.
(A screen capture of the event is available here, and the entire event as recorded on Facebook is here.)
It wasn’t for lack of questions that the meeting ended so quickly. One question I asked had to do with the city’s reporting on its economic development efforts. The City of Lawrence annually produces a comprehensive report, but Wichita does not. 2 Rigby answered this question online, which is the way these things are supposed to work.
Then I asked this question: “There has been a lot of investment, public and private, in downtown Wichita. What has been the trend in the number of business firms, employees, and payroll during that time?” That was six minutes and 50 seconds after the start of the meeting, according to Facebook. The meeting ended 92 seconds later with no answer to this question.
But I wanted the city to answer my question. After five weeks of multiple requests through both Facebook and email, I received a response from the city:
from: Bob Weeks
to: Scot Rigby
Hi, I’m still wondering why the social media town hall from June 20 was ended after less than nine minutes. There is still a pending question.
For your convenience, here is the link to the Facebook video:
Dear Mr. Weeks-
Scot Rigby asked that I follow up with your question since I was involved with coordination of the Social Media Town Hall events.
During the Social Media Town Hall events on June 15 and June 20 we presented content in a variety of formats on Facebook and Twitter. We used the Facebook Live format for one topic, but 30 second videos for 14 other topics (seven on each day). We publicized the Facebook Live topic the day before, and our intent was to respond to questions from that topic as well as during the event. We ended the Facebook Live event after responding to comments and feedback from June 15 and focused efforts on responding to other posts as well as Nextdoor, which we used for the first time during the Social Media Town Hall this year. Because of changes in technology, each year the Social Media Town Hall is a little different.
Elizabeth Goltry Wadle
Principal Budget Analyst
City of Wichita
I think I’ll characterize this as nonresponsive.
Besides this answer, the city also responded on Facebook on July 18, nearly a month after I posed the question. That response referred me to the 2016 State of Downtown Report from the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation. That is also (mostly) nonresponsive to my question.
In a way, I can sympathize with Rigby not wanting to answer my question. Perhaps he doesn’t know the answer. But he might know — he should know — the answer, which is that since 2007 there are fewer business establishments, fewer people working downtown, and lower earnings generated in downtown Wichita. In all cases, the trend is lower. 3
Regarding the 2016 State of Downtown Report from the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation: That document claims there are 26,000 workers in downtown Wichita. That is a large mistake and greatly overstates the number of workers. 4
It’s curious that the city did not refer me to a 2017 edition of the State of Downtown Report. But that document does not exist. It’s common for these reports to be released in May, but this year’s report is not yet available.
“The City Council has stressed the importance of transparency for this organization,” City Manager Robert Layton said. “We’re honored to receive a Sunny Award and we will continue to empower and engage citizens by providing information necessary to keep them informed on the actions their government is taking on their behalf.”
Shortly after his election, current Mayor Jeff Longwell penned a column in which he said, “First off, we want City Hall to be open and transparent to everyone in the community.”
Is a lack of staff at city hall the reason why I can’t get an answer to a question? I don’t think so. Two years ago the city expanded its staff by hiring a Strategic Communications Director. When the city announced the new position, it said: “The Strategic Communications Director is the City’s top communications position, charged with developing, managing, and evaluating innovative, strategic and proactive public communications plans that support the City’s mission, vision and goals.”
My experience with this social media town hall runs contrary to the city’s proclaimed goals, and this is not the only time I’ve had problems with the city regarding requests for information. 5