Tag Archives: Wichita city council

Pay no attention to the Ferris wheel on the riverbank

When the City of Wichita shows architectural renderings, are we to treat them as promises, or as someone’s unrealizable dream?

Click for larger.
A rendering of the new Wichita baseball stadium and environs shows — prominently — a large Ferris wheel. Is this something Wichitans and visitors can look forward to?

No, as Wichita City Council Member Cindy Claycomb (district 6, north central Wichita) found out when she asked, there will be no Ferris wheel on the banks of the Arkansas River in downtown Wichita.

Or maybe not. On Facebook, Council Member Bryan Frye (district 5, west and northwest Wichita) wrote, “Doesn’t mean that a Ferris Wheel can’t happen somewhere else in the footprint.”

Of course, there could also be a roller coaster and a petting zoo with unicorns.

So what is the value of architectural renderings like this? Does the existence of a Ferris wheel constitute a promise to deliver?

It’s not like the city showed a Ferris wheel that’s 100 feet tall but delivered one just 75 feet tall. Maybe we could excuse that.

But there will be no Ferris wheel.

I don’t know who created the illustration with the Ferris wheel, but someone in authority at Wichita city hall included it in a presentation to the city council and people of Wichita.

Things like this are meant to generate excitement and enthusiasm. But this is done by making false promises.

Since we know there is no Ferris wheel, what else in the illustration is just sizzle without substance?

And when the city shows renderings of the next project (performing arts center, convention center, etc.), will we have to figure out what is real, and what is only vaportecture?

Wichita considers a new stadium

The City of Wichita plans subsidized development of a sports facility as an economic driver. Originally published in July 2017.

West Bank Redevelopment District. Click for larger.
This week the Wichita City Council will consider a project plan for a redevelopment district near Downtown Wichita. It is largely financed by Tax Increment Financing and STAR bonds. Both divert future incremental tax revenue to pay for various things within the district.1 2

City documents promise this: “The City plans to substantially rehabilitate or replace Lawrence-Dumont Stadium into a multi-sport athletic complex. The TIF project would allow the City to make investments in Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, construct additional parking in the redevelopment district, initiate improvements to the Delano multi-use path and make additional transportation improvements related to the stadium project area. In addition to the stadium work, the City plans to construct, utilizing STAR bond funds, a sports museum, improvements to the west bank of the Arkansas River and construct a pedestrian bridge connecting the stadium area with the Century II block. The TIF project is part of the overall plan to revitalize the stadium area and Delano Neighborhood within the district.”3

We’ve heard things like this before. Each “opportunity” for the public to invest in downtown Wichita is accompanied by grand promises. But actual progress is difficult to achieve, as evidenced by the examples of Waterwalk, Kenmar,and Block One.4

Trends of business activity in downtown Wichita. Click for larger.
In fact, change in Downtown Wichita — if we’re measuring the count of business firms, jobs, and payroll — is in the wrong direction, despite large public and private investment. 5

Perhaps more pertinent to a sports facility as an economic growth driver is the Intrust Bank Arena. Two years ago the Wichita Eagle noted the lack of growth in the area. 6 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. 7

I’m sure the city will remind us that the arena was a Sedgwick County project, not a City of Wichita project, as if that makes a difference. Also, the poor economic performance cited above is for Downtown Wichita as delineated by zip code 67202, while the proposed baseball stadium project lies just outside that area, as if that makes a difference.

By the way, this STAR bonds district is an expansion of an existing district which contains the WaterWalk development. That development has languished, with acres of land having been available for development for many years. We’ve also found that the city was not holding the WaterWalk developer accountable to the terms of the deal that was agreed upon, to the detriment of Wichita taxpayers. 8

Following, selected articles on the economics of public financing of sports stadiums.

The Economics of Subsidizing Sports Stadiums

Scott A. Wolla, “The Economics of Subsidizing Sports Stadiums,” Page One Economics, May 2017. This is a project of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. Link.
“Building sports stadiums has an impact on local economies. For that reason, many people support the use of government subsidies to help pay for stadiums. However, economists generally oppose such subsidies. They often stress that estimations of the economic impact of sports stadiums are exaggerated because they fail to recognize opportunity costs. Consumers who spend money on sporting events would likely spend the money on other forms of entertainment, which has a similar economic impact. Rather than subsidizing sports stadiums, governments could finance other projects such as infrastructure or education that have the potential to increase productivity and promote economic growth.”

What economists think about public financing for sports stadiums

Jeff Cockrell, Chicago Booth Review, February 01, 2017. Link.
“But do the economic benefits generated by these facilities — via increased tourism, for example — justify the costs to the public? Chicago Booth’s Initiative on Global Markets put that question to its US Economic Experts Panel. Fifty-seven percent of the panel agreed that the costs to taxpayers are likely to outweigh benefits, while only 2 percent disagreed — though several panelists noted that some contributions of local sports teams are difficult to quantify.”

Publicly Financed Sports Stadiums Are a Game That Taxpayers Lose

Jeffrey Dorfman. Forbes, January 31, 2015. Link.
“Once you look at things this way, you see that stadiums can only justify public financing if they will draw most attendees from a long distance on a regular basis. The Super Bowl does that, but the average city’s football, baseball, hockey, or basketball team does not. Since most events held at a stadium will rely heavily on the local fan base, they will never generate enough tax revenue to pay back taxpayers for the cost of the stadium.”

Sports Facilities and Economic Development

Andrew Zimbalist, Government Finance Review, August 2013. Link.
“This article is meant to emphasize the complexity of the factors that must be evaluated in assessing the economic impact of sports facility construction. While prudent planning and negotiating can improve the chances of minimizing any negative impacts or even of promoting a modest positive impact, the basic experience suggests that a city should not expect that a new arena or stadium by itself will provide a boost to the local economy.

Instead, the city should think of the non-pecuniary benefits involved with a new facility, whether they entail bringing a professional team to town, keeping one from leaving, improving the conveniences and amenities at the facility, or providing an existing team with greater resources for competition. Sports are central to cultural life in the United States (and in much of the world). They represent one of the most cogent ways for residents to feel part of and enjoy belonging to a community. The rest of our lives are increasingly isolated by modern technological gadgetry. Sport teams help provide identity to a community, and it is this psychosocial benefit that should be weighed against the sizeable public investments that sports team owners demand.”

Professional Sports as Catalysts for Metropolitan Economic Development

Robert A. Baade, Journal of Urban Affairs, 1996. Link.
“To attract or retain a team, cities are offering staggering financial support and rationalize their largesse on economic grounds. Do professional sports increase income and create jobs in amounts that justify the behavior of cities? The evidence detailed in this paper fails to support such a rationale. The primary beneficiaries of subsidies are the owners and players, not the taxpaying public.”


Notes

  1. Weeks, Bob. STAR bonds in Kansas. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/star-bonds-kansas/.
  2. Weeks, Bob. Wichita TIF projects: some background. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-tif-projects-background/.
  3. Wichita City Council, agenda packet for July 18, 2017.
  4. Weeks, Bob. Downtown Wichita’s Block One, a beneficiary of tax increment financing. Before forming new tax increment financing districts, Wichita taxpayers ought to ask for progress on current districts. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/downtown-wichita-block-one-beneficiary-tax-increment-financing/.
  5. Weeks, Bob. Downtown Wichita business trends. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/downtown-wichita-business-trends/.
  6. “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.” Lefler, Dion. 5 years after Intrust Bank Arena opens, little surrounding development has followed. Wichita Eagle. December 20, 2014. Available at http://www.kansas.com/news/local/article4743402.html.
  7. Riedl, Matt. Has Commerce Street become too cool for its own good? Wichita Eagle. April 8, 2017. http://www.kansas.com/entertainment/ent-columns-blogs/keeper-of-the-plans/article143529404.html.
  8. Weeks, Bob. Wichita WaterWalk contract not followed, again Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-waterwalk-agreement-not-followed/.

Wichita city protections for ballpark land development

The City of Wichita says it has safeguards built in to the proposed baseball park land development deal.

This week the Wichita City Council will consider a land development deal for land surrounding the new ballpark on the west bank of the Arkansas River downtown. The city assures us that there are safeguards in the deal that protect Wichitans.

We need safeguards. The city is borrowing to pay for the project, and the city expects to collect a lot of money from surrounding development, necessary to pay off the borrowed money. 1

To spur this development, the city plans to sell (about) 4.25 acres of land to the development team for $1 per acre. If the developer does not perform by building commercial space according to a schedule, the city can buy back land at that same price.

This — the buyback of the land — is promoted as security for the city. There are protections, the city tells us. The city also acknowledges that some past deals like WaterWalk have not had the type of protections built in to the ballpark deal.

But really: What is the value of the safeguards in the ballpark land deal?

If the ballpark developers fail (I’d like to name them, but we don’t know anything about them except for one person 2), the city can get its land back. But what then? Who pays the bonds? (Some of the borrowing is in the form of STAR bonds, which are not obligations of the city. But if these bonds went unpaid, it would be a very large and bad blot on the city’s reputation.)

The city says it would hurry to find another developer. But finding reputable developers willing to take over a failed effort might be difficult. Principal and interest must be paid during this time.

This doesn’t seem like much protection.

Walk away from WaterWalk

Critics of city development projects point to WaterWalk as an example of a failed downtown development. Some $41 million of city funds were spent there with few positive results, and with the recent closing of the Gander Mountain store, fortunes are not looking up.

But WaterWalk is different, the city says. In a recent social media town hall, the city stated, “Waterwalk wasn’t the deal we put together nor did it have the safeguards of this project. Waterwalk is not a city owned development.” 3

I guess it depends on the meaning of “we.” True, most city officials weren’t in office at the time of the WaterWalk deal. Accountability belongs to others is the attitude of Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell and others.

But most of the people of Wichita are still here, and still waiting for the city’s promises to be realized.

While the city criticizes the WaterWalk deal for not having safeguards, the protections built in the baseball deal aren’t very strong. And while the city says “WaterWalk is not a city owned development,” neither is the ballpark land development deal. Remember, the city is selling the land.

The protections

In the Wichita city council agenda packet for March 19, 2019, we find this in item IV-1:

City grants the Developer an initial, exclusive right to purchase the Private Development Site for the development of the hospitality, commercial, retail, office and residential uses, as contemplated herein, for $1.00 an acre. This opportunity extends for ninety (90) days after the start of the first full season of the team’s residency in Wichita.

The next point requires the developer to exercise the purchase rights and meet a series of benchmarks, with a first phase of 30,000 square feet of development starting in 2021, with a second phase of 20,000 square starting the following year, and another 15,000 square feet after that.

Then the purported safeguards:

If the Developer fails to Commence Construction on any Phase by the appointed time or fails to complete construction of any Phase of development within the appointed time. The Developer can forestall a default by providing personal guarantees and making the CID and TIF shortfall payments. The Developer will also forfeit any right to any future phase of development. The City may repurchase any unaffected phase property for the original sale price. If the Developer fails to make the shortfall payments, the City may collect on the personal guarantees and exercise all legal remedies.

There is an escape clause:

Developer may provide personal guarantees reasonably satisfactory to the City as security that Developer will make the City whole for the lost revenue stream required to satisfy the state and local STAR bond repayments, CID and TIF District financing pro forma on an annual basis (Shortfall Payments).

As for accepting personal guarantees, we don’t know the identities of the developers, except for majority owner Lou Schwechheimer. 4 We don’t know the size of the share he owns, except the city tells us it is over 50 percent.


Notes

Update: Wichita city sales tax not passed

There was no successful Wichita city sales tax election. City documents were mistaken, which raises more issues.

The agenda packet for this week’s meeting of the Wichita City Council held a surprise: The city had passed a one cent per dollar sales tax.

In the agenda for March 5, 2019, as part of item V-3, titled “Private Development Agreement with Wichita Riverfront LP (District IV),” there is a development agreement between the city and a group wanting to develop city-owned land near the new baseball stadium. Section 6.03 of the development agreement holds this surprise:

The 1% City sales tax has been approved at an election, and the City agrees that the City sales tax revenues generated within the STAR Bond District will be committed to pay the principal and interest of the STAR Bonds.” (emphasis added)

It turns out this is a mistake. The city’s chief economic development official told me, “When we draft new agreements, we often cut and paste language from previous agreements to help build a base document.”

This language has been removed from the agreement, he also said, as it has “no purpose in this agreement.”

This still leaves a few questions:

First, from which previous agreement was this copied? Which agreement (or potential agreement) contained a statement that city voters approved a city sales tax? Which election?

Second, what if the council had passed this agreement with this language included?

Third, this is evidence of extreme carelessness. We’ve been told that this development agreement has been in negotiations for several months. Yet, this mistake somehow survived and almost became part of a binding document.

For more on this matter, see:

In Wichita, no tenant poaching, unless waived

The city of Wichita has included anti-poaching clauses in development agreements to protect non-subsidized landlords, but the agreements are without teeth.

The Wichita City Council is considering a development agreement between the city and a group wanting to develop city-owned land near the new baseball stadium. In the agenda for March 5, 2019, as part of item V-3, titled “Private Development Agreement with Wichita Riverfront LP (District IV),” there is this in the city’s “analysis” section:

For and in consideration of the Purchase Rights granted Developer herein, from the Effective Date of this Agreement for a period of ten (10) years after the Completion of Construction for the Phase One Development, Developer and each of its members hereby agrees and consents that it shall not, directly or indirectly, market, solicit, promote or attempt to lease commercial space in the Private Development to then-current tenants of properties located within a distance of two (2) miles extending from the outside boundary of the Private Development Site. (emphasis added)

While the city doesn’t provide a reason for this provision of the agreement, we might call it the “anti-poaching” clause. Since the city is giving land to the ballpark developers at (essentially) zero cost, that gives them an advantage over other developers who have not received such subsidy. The ballpark developers could use that cost advantage to lure (poach) tenants from nearby locations. Those landlords who lose tenants might feel they have been discriminated against. They’d be correct.

While this anti-poaching policy seems reasonable, the city gives itself an escape hatch. In the actual agreement between the city and the ballpark developer we find that the developer shall not poach without “the City’s providing written consent waiving this restriction with respect to such Potential Tenant.” 1

In other words, the city can waive the anti-poaching clause. There is no need for anyone to give a reason why a waiver is necessary. The document is silent as to whether a waiver requires city council approval.

This isn’t the first time the city has included an anti-poaching clause with a waiver provision. On December 19, 2017 the city council considered a development agreement for the Spaghetti Works development near Naftzger Park in downtown. The city’s analysis described an anti-poaching clause, but the actual development agreement lets the city waive the clause. In this case, all the city must do is fail to object to a poached tenant, and the clause is waived. 2


Notes

  1. Development agreement, section 3.10: “Business Restriction Radius. For and in consideration of the Purchase Rights granted Developer herein, from the Effective Date of this Agreement for a period of ten (10) years after the Completion of Construction for the Phase One Development, Developer and each of its members hereby agrees and consents that it shall not, directly or indirectly, market, solicit, promote or attempt to lease commercial space in the Private Development to then-current tenants of properties located within a distance of two (2) miles extending from the outside boundary of the Private Development Site (“Business Restriction Radius”) as shown on Exhibit L, to avoid and/or minimize material economic impact to the established businesses within the Business Restriction Radius without: (i) the Developer’s providing to the City and the then-current landlord of such potential tenant (“Potential Tenant”) sixty (60) days’ prior written notice of the intent to enter into lease negotiations with such Potential Tenant within the Business Restriction Radius, and (ii) the City’s providing written consent waiving this restriction with respect to such Potential Tenant. This restriction shall not apply to a Potential Tenant if such Potential Tenant (i) has multiple locations within the City of Wichita at the time of such solicitation, or (ii) such Potential Tenant is considering opening up a second location within the Private Development Site in addition to maintaining its current location within the Business Restriction Radius.”
  2. City of Wichita, agenda packet for December 19, 2017, agenda item IV-6, “Petition to Approve a Community Improvement District and approval of a Development Agreement for Spaghetti Works (District I).” From the city’s analysis” “The agreement includes a retail relocation restriction for the first three years following the Certificate of Completion for Phases 1 and 2. The boundaries for the relocation restriction are 1st Street on the north, Waterman Street on the south, Broadway Avenue on the west and Washington Avenue on the east.”

    From the development agreement: “Section 4.14. Relocation Restrictions. For a period of three years following the City’s acceptance of a Certificate of Full Completion of Phases 1 and 2 of the SW Project, the Developer or approved assignee shall present to the City a written description of potential retailer or restaurant tenants to be located within Phases 1 and 2 of the SW Project which are relocating from a site within the area bounded by 1st Street on the North, Waterman Street on the South, Broadway Street on the West, and Washington Avenue on the East (the “Restricted Area”). Such description shall be presented to the City within thirty (30) days prior to the date when the Developer or approved assignee expect to enter into any legal obligation for the lease of such retail or restaurant tenant space. The City shall have the absolute right to refuse any such prospective tenant presented by the Developer. If the City Representative does not provide a written objection to Developer within ten (10) business days of presentment, such non-response shall constitute a waiver of any objection to Developer’s proposed sale or lease. The Developers further agree to obtain a covenant from any assignee or purchaser of an ownership interest in the SW Project to abide by the terms of this Section 4.14.” (emphasis added)

Wichita city sales tax passed

Wichita voters might be surprised to learn that they passed a city sales tax, according to city documents.

In 2014 the Wichita City Council allowed voters to decide on a temporary one cent per dollar Wichita city sales tax. That would have taken the sales tax in the city from 7.5 percent to 8.5 percent. The matter failed to pass, with 62 percent of voters against the tax.

But wait. According to the agenda packet for the council’s meeting on March 5, 2019, a one-cent city sales tax has been approved at an election.

In the agenda for that day, as part of item V-3, titled “Private Development Agreement with Wichita Riverfront LP (District IV),” there is a development agreement between the city and a group wanting to develop city-owned land near the new baseball stadium. Section 6.03 of the development agreement holds this surprise:

The 1% City sales tax has been approved at an election, and the City agrees that the City sales tax revenues generated within the STAR Bond District will be committed to pay the principal and interest of the STAR Bonds.” (emphasis added)

That’s news.

This error — if it is an error — is much more than a simple typographical error or misspelled word. I’ve asked the city for an explanation of what this means.

Something like this must be more than a random mistake. We need to know: How did this statement make its way into an official city document, specifically an agreement between the city and a business partner?

Are city officials planning another sales tax election? Not only planning an election but banking on the passage of the tax?

Is the business partner relying on a new Wichita city sales tax? Did the city promise this?

Is this something else we haven’t been told, like a secret deal to sell city-owned land for $1 per acre?

Is this someone’s idea of a joke?

No matter what explanation the city may provide, it’s difficult to fathom how language like this appears in an official city document unless someone is thinking about this — and wishes for new taxes.

I’ll let you know if I get a response from Scot Rigby, who is Assistant City Manager, Director of Development Services for the City of Wichita.

Update: It was a mistake, the city says. See Update: Wichita city sales tax not passed.

Excerpt from Wichita city council agenda packet. Click for larger.

Slow down on Wichita ballpark land deal

A surprise deal that has been withheld from citizens will be considered by the Wichita City Council this week.

Wichitans were probably surprised to learn Sunday that the city plans to sell land near the new baseball stadium to the owners of the new baseball Wichita team.

Surprised for several reasons: First, while the city completed an agreement with the new team last year, the land sale was not disclosed to the public. There appears to be no prior public mention of this.

Second, the city plans to sell land for $1 per acre.

Third: While the Wichita Eagle reported this story Sunday 1 We might have known as early as Friday, except that city council agendas were not available due to a website problem. The website was fixed Monday afternoon.

Here’s what the agenda packet holds for item V-3, titled “Private Development Agreement with Wichita Riverfront LP (District IV).”

“As part of the City’s effort to attract affiliated baseball to Wichita and secure development activity to help pay for the stadium STAR and TIF bonds, the City extended the invitation for interested team ownerships to have development opportunities surrounding the stadium. The New Orleans’s team ownership did express that as a requirement for their interest in Wichita they required development rights around the stadium.”

This is the first time the city has revealed that development opportunities surrounding the stadium were a requirement of the baseball team deal.

From the agenda: “City grants the Developer exclusive right to purchase the Private Development Site for the development of the hospitality, commercial, retail, office and residential uses, as contemplated herein, for $1.00 an acre.”

How much land at one dollar per acre? Earlier, the agenda holds this: “The City owns approximately 24 acres at the former Lawrence Dumont Stadium site. After securing the final footprint of the stadium site, adjacent streets, infrastructure and riverfront enhancements, it is estimated that the remaining property available for private development will be 4.25 acres.” (The Eagle article reported the sale would be 24 acres, but the agenda contradicts that.)

It is troubling that the city has not been forthright in sharing this with us before now. Besides the agenda, the Eagle reported this:

“It goes back to the partnership that we have worked out with the team,” said Scot Rigby, assistant city manager and director of development services, whose department came up with the agreement.

“That’s where we struck that agreement on the value of the ground. For the city, we’ve already owned that property,” he said. “If we didn’t do anything with it, it would be undeveloped property. So the value for us is to get it in development as quickly as possible.”

Also, from the Eagle:

Having the baseball team expand its operations from baseball to real estate along the river has been part of the plan since talks started between the team owners and city officials about three years ago, and it played a major role in attracting the team to Wichita, officials with the city and the team said.

“We needed a team that played the level of baseball that was attractive for the community and important in terms of affiliated baseball at the Triple-A level. But we also wanted a team that could deliver on the development,” Layton said.

Why didn’t the city feel it could share that with us at the time the deal was struck for the team to move to Wichita?

There’s also this. We don’t know much about the ownership team, led by Schwechheimer. At least some in New Orleans weren’t happy with his plans to move the team from there to Wichita: “Relocating the Baby Cakes to Wichita, a city with one-third the market of New Orleans would be in many ways the final act of betrayal by owner Lou Schwechheimer. First, Schwechheirmer changed the team name from the Zephyrs, which New Orleans embraced, to the Baby Cakes. The name is loathed by most in the New Orleans area.” 2

More troubling is this: Schwechheimer bought the New Orleans team in 2016. At the time, local media reported this: “Schwechheimer, announced Monday as manager and controller of a company that has bought 50 percent of the New Orleans Zephyrs, said that type of diligence, dedication and now experience will be used to turn around this city’s Triple-A team.” 3

The Eagle reports this: “Having the baseball team expand its operations from baseball to real estate along the river has been part of the plan since talks started between the team owners and city officials about three years ago, and it played a major role in attracting the team to Wichita, officials with the city and the team said.”

If all this reporting is true, talks about moving the team from New Orleans started in 2016, the same year Schwechheimer purchased the team and said he would use “diligence” and “dedication” to turn around the New Orleans team.

That’s something to think about. Is this a reliable person?

Also: The $1 per acre reminds us of other $1 dollar deals the city has crafted. In 2012, the city leased land it owned in Waterwalk for $1 per year for 93 years. There were apartments built, but the city did not follow through on an important part of the deal. 4 Other developments in Waterwalk were leased for $1 per year. 5

In these instances, apartments and a hotel were built. But in general, Waterwalk has been a dismal failure, and in recent years its fortunes have declined farther.

In 2011 the city decided to build a parking garage downtown with retail space. It leased 8,500 square feet of that space to Dave Burk for $1 per year. Much of that space has remained vacant since it was built.

Can’t we see some progress on these projects before the city does it again?

Then, these developers are from out-of-town, like — dare I say — the Minnesota Guys. At one time the toast of the town, their multi-count criminal indictment for securities fraud is on appeal to the Kansas Supreme Court on a jurisdictional matter. Other than that, they left a trail of broken promises and bad debts in downtown Wichita.

For these reasons — a surprise announcement that has been withheld from citizens, a broken website, repeating a pattern that hasn’t been successful — we need to take at least a few weeks to mull over this deal.

Then, there’s this: In the agenda packet, section 6.03 of the development agreement holds this surprise: “The 1% City sales tax has been approved at an election, and the City agrees that the City sales tax revenues generated within the STAR Bond District will be committed to pay the principal and interest of the STAR Bonds.”

I have no idea what this means. But how did this appear in an official city document and an agreement with a developer?


Notes

  1. Swaim, Chance. Wichita plans to sell riverfront property near new ball park for $1 an acre. Wichita Eagle, March 3, 2019. Available at https://www.kansas.com/news/politics-government/article226994834.html.
  2. Boyd, Kevin. BREAKING: New Orleans Baby Cakes Are Heading To Wichita After 2019. Available at https://thehayride.com/2018/09/breaking-new-orleans-baby-cakes-are-heading-to-wichita-after-2019/.
  3. Williams, Darrell. New owner Lou Schwechheimer tasked with turning New Orleans Zephyrs around. The New Orleans Advocate, April 22, 2016. Available at https://www.theadvocate.com/new_orleans/sports/zephyrs/article_0119ed0a-4d00-5a7e-be97-00d430c0f819.html.
  4. Weeks, Bob. Wichita WaterWalk apartment deal not good for citizens. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-waterwalk-apartment-deal-not-good-for-citizens/.
  5. Weeks, Bob. Waterwalk hotel deal breaks new ground for Wichita subsidies. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/waterwalk-hotel-deal-breaks-new-ground-for-wichita-subsidies/.

Is the Wichita mayor satisfied with this?

A gloomy jobs forecast is greeted with apparent approval by Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell.

We have to wonder: Did Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell read before tweeting?

Click for larger.
A recent Longwell tweet references news reports regarding a forecast from Intrust Bank Wealth Services. Titled 2019 Economic Outlook and Market Perspectives, it contains this regarding Wichita:

The Wichita economy saw jobs lost in 2017, but improved last year. Job growth is expected to trend slightly higher in 2019, buoyed by manufacturing and professional services. We anticipate the Wichita economy to expand this year, but grow at slower rate than the U.S. and the majority of metro areas. Business/consumer optimism and aerospace demand should help power the local economy; however, trade issues, commodity prices, lack of skilled labor, and slow population growth will likely limit growth in southeast Kansas.

There’s not much good news in this forecast, except that job growth is expected to grow rather than decline as it did two years ago. So we have to wonder why the mayor retweeted — presumably approvingly — this grim forecast.

It’s a continuation of a trend:

  • Several times Longwell and other city officials have promoted a study claiming Wichita is a highly “recession-proof” city. That study is nonsense and ignores key economic data and the definition of a recession. See Wichita mayor promotes inaccurate picture of local economy and Wichita, a recession-proof city.

  • Responding to a different forecast of job growth in Wichita for 2019, Scot Rigby, who is Assistant City Manager, Director of Development Services for the City of Wichita, tweeted “great news.” But that forecast is as gloomy as the Intrust forecast, with job growth expected to be about half the national rate. See Job growth in Wichita: Great news?

  • Generally, Wichita officials are pleased with the local economy (Former Wichita City Council Member Pete Meitzner: “We have enjoyed great progress and growth during my two terms as a City Council member and I plan to do my part to assure Sedgwick County is part of this continued success.”) But the available statistics are grim and are improving only slowly. See Growing the Wichita economy.

If Wichitans don’t read beyond the rosy headlines and tweets from the mayor and city officials, they will be uninformed, and unfortunately, misinformed by people we should be able to trust.

Naftzger Park costs up, yet again

The cost of fixing an oversight in the design of Naftzger Park in downtown Wichita is rising, and again we’re not to talk about it, even though there are troubling aspects.

Last week the Wichita City Council was scheduled to consider an item regarding the rebuild of Wichita City Council. That item was removed from the agenda the day before the meeting. It now appears on the agenda for the February 12 meeting, and with a higher price tag.

(“Consider” is not quite the right term, as the item was on the council’s consent agenda. That’s where items are passed in bulk, usually without discussion.)

As the city explains in the agenda packet for this week, “Naftzger Park currently has a small pond that acts as a storm water retention facility during rain events. Proposed improvements to Naftzger Park will eliminate the pond and all available storm retention. The project does not include funding for replacing the retention capacity.” The cost is given as $115,000, up from last week’s $85,000.

As explained last week, this seems like a major oversight in the original project plans. The city has regulations regarding stormwater retention that private sector developers must follow. Didn’t any city planners consider these regulations as the project was planned? Didn’t any council member or bureaucrat look at the plans and wonder about stormwater drainage? Wasn’t there a highly-regarded architect designing the park? What about TGC Development, the developer of the surrounding property, to whom the city effectively outsourced the development of Naftzger Park? The construction manager?

Of note: This week the agenda tells us this: “Funding is available for transfer due to the scope of project being adjusted to remove some the structural repairs and the abutment treatment after discussion with the railroad were not successful.” This sounds like structural repairs were planned but not executed. This deserves discussion, but with the item being on the consent agenda, discussion is not likely.

Of further note: The February 5 agenda stated, “Funding is available for transfer due to underruns of bid items upon project completion and favorable bid pricing.” This made it sound like all planned work was completed and the city spent less than budgeted, even if through happenstance. This week we’re being told something different.

Facade improvement program raises issues in Wichita

An incentive program in Wichita should cause us to question why investment in Wichita is not feasible without subsidy.

At its February 5, 2019 meeting, the Wichita City Council will consider an item regarding economic development in Delano. The owner of a building there has applied for financial assistance under the city’s facade improvement program.

The purpose of the facade improvement program, according to city documents, is to provide “low-cost loans and grants” to help improve the appearance of buildings “located in defined areas needing revitalization, including the City’s core area.”

The matter before the council this week is to accept the petition of the property owner and set February 19, 2019 for the public hearing.

Undoubtedly council members will praise the property owner for deciding to invest in Wichita. I’m glad he is, and it sounds like the project will improve the Delano area. But the need for this item raises a few questions regarding public policy in Wichita that are more important than any single project.

First, city documents state: “The Office of Economic Development has reviewed the economic (‘gap’) analysis of the project and determined there is a financial need for incentives based on the current market.” In other words, the city has determined that this project is not economically feasible unless it receives a government subsidy. Will any council members ask why is it not possible to renovate a building in the core of Wichita without subsidy? What factors in Wichita — specifically Delano — make it impossible to have investment like this without subsidy?

Second: Wichita officials, especially Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell, tell us that the city doesn’t use cash as an economic development incentive. But this proposal includes a cash grant of $30,000. This is not a low-cost loan that must be repaid. Instead, it is an incentive, a gift — and it’s cash.

Naftzger Park cost rising, and we’re not to talk about it

The cost of the Naftzger Park makeover is rising, will be paid for with borrowed funds, and possibly handled without public discussion.

The cost of the Naftzger Park project in downtown Wichita is rising, according to an item the Wichita City Council will consider at its Tuesday February 5, 2019 meeting. According to city documents, an additional $85,000 is needed for stormwater retention, a function the former pond provided.

This seems like a major oversight in the original project plans. The city has regulations regarding stormwater retention that private sector developers must follow. Didn’t any city planners consider these regulations as the project was planned? Didn’t any council member or bureaucrat look at the plans and wonder about stormwater drainage? Wasn’t there a highly-regarded architect designing the park? What about TGC Development, the developer of the surrounding property, to whom the city effectively outsourced the development of Naftzger Park? The construction manager?

The extra cost is proposed to come from savings realized in another nearby project. That requires a waiver of policy, according to the agenda: “Staff requested waiver of City Council Policy No. 2 regarding the use of projects savings to allow this transfer of funds.”

On top of that, this money will be borrowed. An accompanying resolution (number 19-048) provides the authorization: “Section 2. Project Financing. All or a portion of the costs of the Project, interest on financing and administrative and financing costs shall be financed with the proceeds of general obligation bonds of the City.”

Borrowing this money, even though it is a small amount, is a significant public policy issue. The city decided to use tax increment financing (TIF) to pay for this project. City officials pitch this as a method of financing that costs the general public nothing, as the TIF bonds are repaid from a project’s future property taxes.

In this case, as the surrounding development by TGC starts to pay higher property taxes, these taxes would be used to pay for Naftzger Park. (Never mind who pays for the public services the development will consume.)

But now, some expenses of the project have been shifted away from TIF to the general city.

The equitable way of handling this is to charge this expense to the TIF district. Either that, or to the responsible parties whose oversight, we now see, was lacking.

By the way, this item is on the consent agenda, meaning there will be no discussion unless a city council member requests the item to be “pulled” for discussion and a potentially separate vote. (A consent agenda is a group of items that are voted on in bulk with a single vote. An item on a consent agenda will be discussed only if a council member requests the item to be “pulled.” If that is done, the item will be discussed. Then it might be withdrawn, voted on by itself, or folded back into the consent agenda with the other items. Generally, consent agenda items are considered by the city to be routine and non-controversial, but that is not always the case.)

Following, an excerpt from the February 5, 2019 city council agenda:

Background: Naftzger Park currently has a small pond that acts as a storm water retention facility during rain events. Proposed improvements to Naftzger Park will eliminate the pond and all available storm retention. The project does not include funding for replacing the retention capacity.

Analysis: With the elimination of the existing pond, underground on-site storage is necessary to prevent a negative impact on the area storm sewer system and the surrounding developments during rain events.

Financial Considerations: Currently, the Stormwater Utility does not have funding available for these improvements. Staff proposes transferring $85,000 in General Obligation bond funding from the Douglas Underpass project. Funding is available for transfer due to underruns of bid items upon project completion and favorable bid pricing. Staff requested waiver of City Council Policy No. 2 regarding the use of projects savings to allow this transfer of funds. The total budget for the stormwater retention facility would be $85,000 and the revised budget for Douglas Underpass would be $2,015,000.

In Wichita, a gentle clawback

Despite the mayor’s bluster, Wichita mostly lets a company off the hook.

As reported in Wichita City Council to consider a clawback, a company failed to meet the targets of an economic development incentive, and according to that agreement, owes the city $253,000 in clawbacks.

The city council, however, decided to require the company to pay only $100,000 of that. The city reasoned that because the company is planning an expansion, that would offset the other $153,000 of the clawback.

Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell described this is holding the company accountable. The Wichita Eagle quoted him as saying, “This is why we’ve done it, to make sure that everyone is accountable and that the taxpayers, at the end of the day, win.”

But despite the mayor’s bluster, the city failed to enforce the agreement it made to protect taxpayers. Instead, the company receives $153,000 in free taxes that it didn’t deserve, along with an interest-free loan of $100,000 amortized over four years.

By the way, the same Eagle article reported: “Fiber Dynamics, a company founded by Darrin Teeter to commercialize technology developed at Wichita State’s National Institute for Aviation Research in the early ‘90s, hasn’t had to pay city property taxes since 2008, an estimated value of more than $500,000.”

Actually, the company didn’t pay any property taxes on the exempted property. That includes county, school, and state taxes.

Wichita City Council to consider a clawback

The unrealized potential of an economic development incentive teaches lessons.

This week the Wichita City Council will consider an amendment to an economic development incentive agreement. 1

In 2008 the city awarded an incentive to a company in the form of exemption from paying property taxes, estimated by the city to be $93,175 annually at the time the incentive was awarded. 2

The incentive was awarded based on the applicant company creating a certain number of jobs and making a certain level of investment. It was rewarded on a five plus five basis, meaning that the city council reviewed the deal after five years. The plan was if the company met goals, the city would extend the incentive for another five years.

At the five-year review, however, the applicant company had not met the job goals. The city invoked an exception that allowed extension of the incentive based on a downturn in the economy as measured by the Wichita Current Conditions Index, which is produced by the Center for Economic Development and Business Research at Wichita State University. 3

Now is the end of the second five-year period. The job goals have not been met, and the city has decided the applicant company is in default of the agreement. The city is proposing a clawback, that is, recovery of the value of the incentive for the second five-year period. According to the agenda packet: “The value of the abated taxes for the second five-years is approximately $253,000. The City Council could clawback the entire amount, or some portion, per the incentive agreement.”

But: The agreement that the council will consider is that the applicant company build an expansion to its facilities at a cost of $2,500,000, using no incentives. Also, the company will repay $100,000 of the abated taxes, in four annual payments of $25,000.

A few things to learn:

First, economic development incentives don’t always work. This reflects the uncertainty of business. When the city presents projections like benefit-cost ratios, it might want to remind us that these values will be achieved only if the project targets are reached. When businesses describe their plans, these are called forward-looking statements. They are accompanied by disclaimers like “subject to risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially.” Investors and interested parties are “cautioned not to place undue reliance on these forward-looking statements.” The same cautions hold for citizens of Wichita, as they are the investors paying the cost of incentives and expecting to receive the benefits. That is, after all, the foundation of the benefit-cost analysis that accompanies requests for incentives: That by spending now or by giving up future tax collections, the city receives even more in benefits.

Second, cities often don’t have the fortitude to strictly enforce clawbacks. Here, the company is receiving credit of $153,000 for construction an expansion to its facility, something the company was contemplating anyway. In other words, receiving credit for something it was going to do anyway. This is the usual case. 4

Third, when the city and its officials say we no longer use cash as an incentive, here’s a case where the city canceled $153,000 of debt the city is entitled to, based on its agreement with the applicant company. That’s just like cash.

For more on this topic, see Clawbacks illustrate difficulty of economic development and In Wichita, a gentle clawback


Notes

  1. Wichita City Council Agenda Packet for January 8, 2019. Item V-1.
  2. Wichita City Council Agenda Packet for February 12, 2008. Item No. 34
  3. See http://kansaseconomy.org/local-indices/wichita-current-index.
  4. Bartik, Timothy J. 2018. “‘But For’ Percentages for Economic Development Incentives: What percentage estimates are plausible based on the research literature?” Upjohn Institute Working Paper 18-289. Kalamazoo, MI: W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research. https://doi.org/10.17848/wp18-289.

Starlite loan isn’t needed

The Wichita City Council seems poised to enter an unnecessarily complicated transaction.

This week the Wichita City Council will consider a loan to the operator of the Starlite Drive-In Theater in Wichita. According to city documents, the proposal is for a five-year loan of $200,000 with an annual interest rate of one percent. The city is requiring both a personal guarantee and a letter of credit, presumably from a reputable bank. 1

We have to wonder why the city asks for both a letter of credit and a personal guarantee. When issuing a letter of credit, a bank will be careful. It is, in effect, making a promise to issue credit to a borrower (the operator of the Starlite) if the borrower does not perform according to the agreement with the city. That alone ought to be enough security.

Moreover, if a bank has enough confidence in a customer to issue a letter of credit for $200,000, it would probably make a loan for the same amount. But that would cost more than one percent in interest.

This is really what the city is doing: Reducing the cost of a loan that a borrower ought to be able to obtain on his own.

Given this, why doesn’t the city simply subsidize the interest cost of the loan? I don’t know what rate a bank would charge this borrower, but it might be 12 percent or so. Then the borrower would have interest costs of $24,000 per year as compared to $2,000 per year for the City of Wichita loan. If the city would simply pay the borrower the difference between the two, things would be much simpler for the city. It wouldn’t have to worry about the loan being repaid.

Well, the city shouldn’t have to worry about repayment, because of the letter of credit. But if the borrower qualifies for that, he can also qualify for a loan.

There are other reasons why the city shouldn’t get involved in the Starlite theater, but if it must, let’s try to keep things simple. Based on what we know so far, I don’t think we’re being told the entire story.

Further evidence of lack of transparency is that this matter has been elevated to an emergency. According to city documents, the mayor will make this declaration regarding the enabling ordinance: “I, Jeff Longwell, Mayor of the City of Wichita, Kansas, hereby request that the City Council declare that a public emergency exists requiring the final adoption and passage on the day of its introduction, to wit, December 18, 2018 …” 2

Notes

  1. “The $200,000 loan from the City will be structured to be repaid over five years as an interest only loan with an interest rate of 1% per annum, with quarterly interest payments for the first four years. The borrower will pay one-twelfth of the principal amount plus interest in each month of year five. The borrower is Blake Smith through Starlite, LLC, a Kansas limited liability company. Smith will provide the City with a personal guarantee as well as a letter of credit securing the entire loan. The letter of credit will be structured as a declining letter of credit. If any principal amount of the loan is prepaid, the letter of credit can be reduced by an equal amount. For instance, if $25,000 is paid at the end of year one, the letter of credit may be reduced to $175,000, the remaining balance of the loan.” City of Wichita, Agenda Packet for December 18, 2018. Item V-5.
  2. REQUEST FOR DECLARATION OF EMERGENCY
    REQUEST OF THE MAYOR OF THE CITY OF WICHITA, KANSAS, FOR THE DECLARATION BY THE CITY COUNCIL OF SAID CITY OF THE EXISTENCE OF A PUBLIC EMERGENCY REQUIRING THE ADOPTION OF AN ORDINANCE BELOW DESIGNATED.
    TO THE MEMBERS OF THE CITY COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF WICHITA, KANSAS:
    I, Jeff Longwell, Mayor of the City of Wichita, Kansas, hereby request that the City Council declare that a public emergency exists requiring the final adoption and passage on the day of its introduction, to wit, December 18, 2018 of an ordinance entitled:
    ORDINANCE NO. _____
    AMENDMENTS TO ORDINANCE 50-585 OF THE CITY OF WICHITA, KANSAS, PERTAINING TO HYATT GRANT PROCEEDS FOR COMMUNITY IMPROVEMENT PROJECTS, GRANTS AND GRANT PROGRAMS
    The general nature of such public emergency lies in the need to pass and publish this ordinance to authorize the release of funds for the purchase of special digital projection equipment and for costs related to its installation for Wichita’s Starlite Drive-In, which was recently purchased by an anonymous buyer to prevent its closure.
    It is therefore expedient at this time that the City Council find and determine that a public emergency exists by reason of the foregoing and that the above entitled Ordinance be finally adopted on the day of its introduction.
    Executed at Wichita, Kansas on this day of December 18, 2018.
    MAYOR OF THE CITY OF WICHITA, KANSAS. ibid.

On big contracts, Wichita has had problems

As Wichita prepares to award a large construction contract, let’s hope the city acts in an ethical manner this time.

As the Wichita City Council prepares to make a decision regarding a contract for the new baseball stadium, the council’s past reputation in these matters can’t be overlooked.

The controversy over the stadium contract has been covered by the Wichita Eagle: “The Wichita City Council hasn’t officially approved a design-build team for the city’s new $75 million Minor League ballpark, but there’s already been a protest over the recommended group. … At issue in a protest by a competing team is whether the JE Dunn team meets a key requirement to be selected, which is that it has built at least three similar Major or Minor League ballparks.” 1

The biggest potential for unethical behavior comes from Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell. In 2012, as the Wichita city council was considering the award of the contract for the new airport terminal, Longwell (then a council member) received campaign contributions from executives of Walbridge, a Michigan construction company partnering with Key Construction to build the new Wichita airport terminal. 2

Two Walbridge contributions were made on July 16, 2012, the day before the council, Longwell included, voted to award the contract to the Key/Walbridge partnership. More contributions from Walbridge arrived on July 20, according to Longwell’s campaign finance reports.

When questioned about the Michigan contributions, Longwell told the Wichita Eagle, “We often get contributions from a wide variety of sources, including out-of-town people.” But analysis of past campaign finance documents filed by Longwell showed just three out-of-state contributions totaling $1,500. 3

In deciding the airport contract issue, the council was asked to make decisions involving whether discretion was abused or whether laws were improperly applied. It’s not surprising that Jeff Longwell made these decisions in favor of his campaign contributors. But he shouldn’t have been involved in the decision.

That was not the first time Jeff Longwell has placed the interests of his campaign contributors ahead of taxpayers. In 2011 the city council, with Longwell’s vote, decided to award Key a no-bid contract to build the parking garage that is part of the Ambassador Hotel project. The no-bid cost of the garage was to be $6 million, according to a letter of intent. Later the city decided to place the contract for competitive bid. Key Construction won the bidding, but for a price $1.3 million less.

It’s not only Longwell with problematic behavior in the past. In 2012, before the vote on the airport contract, executives of Key Construction and spouses contributed heavily to the campaigns of both Wichita City Council Member Lavonta Williams (district 1, northeast Wichita) and Wichita City Council Member James Clendenin (district 3, southeast and south Wichita). These contributions were not known to the public until months after the vote was cast.

Williams is no longer on the council, but Clendenin remains.

Former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer had his own issues, with a curious set of ethics principles. 4

The city needs an adult in the room. That person is, or should be, Wichita city manager Robert Layton. In the past he has implemented policies to end the practice of no-bid contracts. We don’t know what will happen this week.


Notes

  1. Rengers, Carrie. City selects ballpark design-build group; competing bidder questions qualifications. Wichita Eagle, November 29, 2018. Available at https://www.kansas.com/news/business/biz-columns-blogs/carrie-rengers/article222372330.html (subscription may be required).
  2. “A campaign finance report filed by Wichita City Council Member Jeff Longwell contains contributions from executives associated with Walbridge, a Michigan construction company partnering with Key Construction to build the new Wichita airport terminal. … These contributions are of interest because on July 17, 2012, the Wichita City Council, sitting in a quasi-judicial capacity, made a decision in favor of Key and Walbridge that will cost some group of taxpayers or airport customers an extra $2.1 million. Five council members, including Longwell, voted in favor of this decision. Two members were opposed.” Weeks, Bob. Michigan company involved in disputed Wichita airport contract contributes to Jeff Longwell. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/michigan-company-involved-in-disputed-wichita-airport-contract-contributes-to-jeff-longwell/.
  3. “Analysis of Longwell’s July 30, 2012 campaign finance report shows that the only contributions received from addresses outside Kansas are the Walbridge contributions from Michigan, which contradicts Longwell’s claim. Additionally, analysis of ten recent campaign finance reports filed by Longwell going back to 2007 found three contributions totaling $1,500 from California addresses.” Weeks, Bob. Jeff Longwell out-of-town campaign contributions. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/jeff-longwell-out-of-town-campaign-contributions/.
  4. Weeks, Bob. The odd ethics of Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/odd-ethics-wichita-mayor-carl-brewer/.

It’s not the bonds, it’s the taxes

A Wichita Eagle headline reads “Wichita aircraft supplier plans 45 new jobs with $7.5 million bond request,” but important information is buried and incomplete.

According to the agenda packet for the December 4, 2018 meeting of the Wichita City Council, a local aircraft supplier is “requesting issuance of bonds” worth $7.5 million. 1

Even if you read the entire Wichita Eagle article2 on this matter, you wouldn’t really learn much about this item. You might think the city is lending the company this money, which many people assume is the purpose of the Industrial Revenue Bonds program. But in the IRB program, the city lends no money, nor does it guarantee repayment of the bonds. 3

Instead, the purpose of the IRBs is to convey a tax holiday. In the very last paragraph, the article mentions this property tax abatement, but no dollar value is given, even though the “city documents” presumably used as a source for this story clearly state the dollar values. The sales tax exemption is also mentioned, with no dollar value given. City documents don’t hold that, either.

The value of the tax holiday, according to the city, is estimated at $82,040 annually for up to ten years, shared among local taxing authorities thusly:

City of Wichita: $22,837
State of Kansas: $1,050
Sedgwick County: $20,575
USD 259 (Wichita school district): $37,578

For the value of the sales tax exemption, no value is given. By city documents state the purpose of the bonds is to pay for “$4,000,000 for new machinery and equipment.” Sales tax on that would be $300,000. If the entire $7.5 million is spent on taxable purchases, sales tax savings would be $562,500.

Why doesn’t the Wichita Eagle mention some of these important matters?

The article also holds no mention of the important public policy issues involved. For example, why does the owner of the business want to escape paying the same taxes that (nearly) everyone else must pay? This question is especially pertinent as Kansas is one of the few states in which even low-income households pay the full sales tax rate on groceries.

Perhaps the reason is that the cost of government makes this investment unprofitable. If that is true, we have a grave problem. If the city must issue bonds and create a tax holiday for this rather small investment, we have a capacity problem. A reader on Facebook left this wry comment to the Eagle story: “So, local area population 600,000+ people … About to add 45 jobs over 5 years?”

The city justifies tax giveaways like this by using a benefit-cost analysis. That is, if the city gives up some taxes, it will receive even more in additional taxes. This analysis is useful to politicians and bureaucrats. But the analysis is valid and meaningful only if the investment is impossible without the tax giveaway.

The question then becomes: Is this tax forgiveness necessary? City documents don’t say. Showing necessity is not a requirement of the IRB incentive program. We’re left wondering if the tax expenditure, which is potentially more than one million dollars over ten years, is truly needed.

The city is proud of its requirements that the benefit-cost ratio must be at least 1.3 to 1. But for USD 259, the Wichita school district, the ratio is 1.17 to 1. So the city is pushing an “investment” on the school district that is below the standard it requires for itself. The school district has no say in the matter, based on Kansas state law. Note also that the school district gives up the most tax revenue, 1.6 times as much as the city.

By the way, Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell says the city is no longer using cash as economic development incentives. But when the city waves a magic legislative wand and says you don’t have to pay $82,040 per year in property tax, how is that different than giving the same amount in cash? Or when the city says don’t bother paying the sales tax on this, how is that different than giving a cash discount?

The answer is there’s no difference. The mayor, city council members, and city bureaucrats hope you won’t notice the sleight of hand, that is, skillful deception. And with the Wichita Eagle being the watchdog, there’s little chance very many people will be informed.


Notes

  1. City of Wichita, agenda for December 4, 2018. V-2: Public Hearing and Issuance of Industrial Revenue Bonds, Etezazi Industries, Inc. Available at http://www.wichita.gov/Council/Agendas/12-04-2018%20Agenda.pdf.
  2. Siebenmark, Jerry. Wichita aircraft supplier plans 45 new jobs with $7.5 million bond request. Wichita Eagle, November 30, 2018.
  3. “Industrial Revenue Bonds are a mechanism that Kansas cities and counties use to allow companies to avoid paying property and sales taxes.” Weeks, Bob. Industrial revenue bonds in Kansas. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/industrial-revenue-bonds-kansas/.

The Pete Meitzner era in Wichita

Wichita City Council Member Pete Meitzner (district 2, east Wichita) is running for a position on the Sedgwick County Commission.

He’s running on his record of economic development. His website says: “Pete’s seven years on the City Council has proven to be a large part of the positive momentum we have recently experienced.”

Let’s take a look at the record. Click here to view a presentation of the numbers.

Example from the presentation. Click the chart to view the presentation.

Pete Meitzner for Sedgwick County?

In normal times, Republicans may be reluctant to vote for a Democrat for the Sedgwick County Commission. But these are not normal times, and a vote for Pete Meitzner sends a message that we just don’t care about our economy.

If you’ve been following analyst James Chung — and it seems like everyone has — he’s delivered a sobering message: The Wichita economy has not been growing. “[Wichita has been] stuck in neutral for about three decades, with basically no growth, amidst the landscape of a growing U.S. economy,” he said. (In 2017 the Wichita economy shrank from the previous year.)

Chung says we need to change our ways. In his June visit he said, and the Chung Report wrote, “Every market signal points to the same conclusion: The manner in which Wichita is operating during this critical point in our history is just not working.”

So what needs to change? Chung doesn’t say, but here are two things:

First, there are some elected officials and bureaucrats who have presided over the stagnation of the Wichita-area economy. These people need to go.

Second, there are also institutions that are problems, with one glaring example. In one way or another, the Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce has taken the lead in economic development for many years. In recent years the Chamber ran Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition. Now the effort has been split off to a non-profit corporation, the Greater Wichita Partnership.

That sounds good, but under the hood it’s the same leadership and the same methods, although with a few new hired hands.

So when James Chung (and others) says our manner of operation is not working, it’s the Wichita Chamber of Commerce and its ecosystem that must assume a large portion of blame.

That Chamber ecosystem is pumped up and funded by the City of Wichita and Sedgwick County. Bureaucrats and elected officials on those bodies who have supported these economic development efforts must be dismissed.

At the top of this list is Wichita City Council Member Pete Meitzner (district 2, east Wichita). He’s running as a Republican for an open position on the Sedgwick County Commission in east Wichita.

Why should voters reject Pete Meitzner? That’s a good question, because on his campaign web page he promotes his experience: “Pete’s seven years on the City Council has proven to be a large part of the positive momentum we have recently experienced.”

He’s endorsed by the retiring county commissioner he seeks to replace. Again, from his campaign page, there’s this from Sedgwick County Commissioner Dave Unruh: “Pete displays leadership that produces results. We need to only look to the City of Wichita’s recent successes to see the type of leadership Meitzner is capable of. His enthusiasm and business-minded approach to challenges has greatly helped create the positive momentum that Wichita experiences today. Sedgwick County needs Meitzner’s leadership.”

Click for larger.

Let’s compare these claims to the record. Nearby is a chart of nonfarm jobs in the Wichita metropolitan area. I’ve identified when Unruh and Meitzner took office. As you can see, when Unruh took office there had been a downturn. But the Wichita economy improved, although slower than the national economy.

When Meitzner took his position on the city council, there had also been a downtown. The national economy recovered. But the Wichita-area economy has not recovered. As time passes, the gap between the Wichita and national economy grows.

Wichita and national GDP. Click for larger.

There are other indicators besides jobs that illustrate the performance of the Wichita-area economy. Gross Domestic Product, the total value of everything produced, has fallen.

Click for larger.

Real personal income fell in 2016, the last year for which there is data. Over the years, its growth in Wichita has been slower than most other areas.

To see how others evaluate the Wichita-area economy, consider the Brookings Institution Metro Monitor. From Brookings you can also learn that Wichita exports are falling.

Is the record of Dave Unruh relevant when considering whether to vote for Pete Meitzner? Yes. Meitzner praises Unruh’s record: “His (Unruh’s) legacy of 16 years of professionalism … has been many successes and often the calm in the storm that’s been of recent,” Meitzner said. “There’s a strong feeling in the community that what we’re doing in the city and in the region is really moving in the right direction. I can help the county have our oars in the water going the same way as the whole region.” (“Wichita City Council member hopes to become calming force on County Commission” Wichita Eagle, February 13, 2018.)

Except: the legacy of Unruh in economic development is stagnation and falling behind, as is Meitzner’s record on the city council. As for “professionalism” and “calm in the storm,” we must take notice that the FBI is investigating Unruh for “potential obstruction of justice based on possible whistleblower retaliation.” (“FBI investigating possible obstruction of justice in Sedgwick County Commission” Wichita Eagle, October 23, 2018.)

Despite all the evidence, Meitzner is running on his record. His campaign literature says he is committed to “Maintaining his track record of successful ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT.” He praises the Wichita city manager, the city bureaucracy, and our economic development machinery for doing a good job. He believes these are doing the right thing.

This demonstrates another problem. Besides presiding over our region’s poor economic performance, Meitzner (and Unruh) do not acknowledge the problem. To them, there is “momentum.” We’re “really moving in the right direction,” Meitzner says.

For someone to say these things, they must be either blissfully ignorant, a blatant liar, or someone who wants to be in office so badly that they’ll say anything to be elected.

Republicans may be reluctant to vote for a Democrat for the Sedgwick County Commission. In normal times, I am too. But these are not normal times, and a vote for Pete Meitzner sends a message that we just don’t care about our economy.