Tag Archives: Wichita Downtown Development Corporation

More Wichita planning on tap

We should be wary of government planning in general. But when those who have been managing and planning the foundering Wichita-area economy want to step up their management of resources, we risk compounding our problems.

As announced by the City of Wichita, “In response to recent recommendations from Project Wichita and the Century II Citizens Advisory Committee, community organizations and their leadership are stepping forward to take the next step to create a comprehensive master plan and vision that connects projects and both banks of the Arkansas River.”

The city says these organizations will be involved:

We should note that these organizations have been responsible for developing the Wichita-area economy for many years. Despite recent developments like Cargill and Spirit Aerosystems, the Wichita economy has performed below the nation. While improving, our economic growth is perhaps half the national rate, and just two years ago Wichita lost jobs and population, and economic output fell.

Thus, the question is this: Why these organizations?

Then, recent behavior by the city, specifically surrounding the new ballpark, has resulted in a loss of credibility. Few seem happy with the city’s conduct. To this day, we still do not know the identities of the partners except for one.

In the future, can we trust the city and its partners are telling us the truth, and the whole truth?

Then, there are the problems with government planning. Randal O’Toole is an expert on the problems with government planning. His book The Best-Laid Plans: How Government Planning Harms Your Quality of Life, Your Pocketbook, and Your Future

Planning seems like a good thing. But O’Toole tells us the problem with government plans: “Everybody plans. But private plans are flexible, and we happily change them when new information arises. In contrast, special interest groups ensure that the government plans benefiting them do not change — no matter how costly.”

He continues: “Like any other organization, government agencies need to plan their budgets and short-term projects. But they fail when they write comprehensive plans (which try to account for all side effects), long-range plans (two to 50 years or more), or plans that attempt to control other people’s land and resources. Many plans try to do all three.”

Other problems with government planning as identified by O’Toole (and many others):

  • Planners have no better insight into the future than anyone else
  • Planners will not pay the costs they impose on other people
  • Unlike planners, markets can cope with complexity

Some will argue that the organizations listed above are not government entities and shouldn’t exhibit the problems inherent with government planning. But their plans will undoubtedly need to be approved by, and enforced by, government.

Further, some of these organizations are funded substantially or nearly entirely by government, are in favor of more government (such as higher taxation and regulation), and campaign vigorously for candidates who support more taxes and planning.

Following, from Randal O’Toole as published in 2007.

Government Plans Don’t Work

By Randal O’Toole

Unlike planners, markets can cope with complexity and change.

After more than 30 years of reviewing government plans, including forest plans, park plans, watershed plans, wildlife plans, energy plans, urban plans, and transportation plans, I’ve concluded that government planning almost always does more harm than good.

Most government plans are so full of fabrications and unsupportable assumptions that they aren’t worth the paper they are printed on, much less the millions of dollars taxpayers spend to have them written. Federal, state, and local governments should repeal planning laws and shut down planning offices.

Everybody plans. But private plans are flexible, and we happily change them when new information arises. In contrast, special interest groups ensure that the government plans benefiting them do not change — no matter how costly.

Like any other organization, government agencies need to plan their budgets and short-term projects. But they fail when they write comprehensive plans (which try to account for all side effects), long-range plans (two to 50 years or more), or plans that attempt to control other people’s land and resources. Many plans try to do all three.

Comprehensive plans fail because forests, watersheds, and cities are simply too complicated for anyone to understand. Chaos science reveals that very tiny differences in initial conditions can lead to huge differences in outcomes — that’s why megaprojects such as Boston’s Big Dig go so far over budget.

Long-range plans fail because planners have no better insight into the future than anyone else, so their plans will be as wrong as their predictions are.

Planning of other people’s land and resources fails because planners will not pay the costs they impose on other people, so they have no incentive to find the best answers.

Most of the nation’s 32,000 professional planners graduated from schools that are closely affiliated with colleges of architecture, giving them an undue faith in design. This means many plans put enormous efforts into trying to control urban design while they neglect other tools that could solve social problems at a much lower cost.

For example, planners propose to reduce automotive air pollution by increasing population densities to reduce driving. Yet the nation’s densest urban area, Los Angeles, which is seven times as dense as the least dense areas, has only 8 percent less commuting by auto. In contrast, technological improvements over the past 40 years, which planners often ignore, have reduced the pollution caused by some cars by 99 percent.

Some of the worst plans today are so-called growth-management plans prepared by states and metropolitan areas. They try to control who gets to develop their land and exactly what those developments should look like, including their population densities and mixtures of residential, retail, commercial, and other uses. “The most effective plans are drawn with such precision that only the architectural detail is left to future designers,” says a popular planning book.

About a dozen states require or encourage urban areas to write such plans. Those states have some of the nation’s least affordable housing, while most states and regions that haven’t written such plans mostly have very affordable housing. The reason is simple: planning limits the supply of new housing, which drives up the price of all housing and leads to housing bubbles.

In states with growth-management laws, median housing prices in 2006 were typically 4 to 8 times median family incomes. In most states without such laws, median home prices are only 2 to 3 times median family incomes.

Few people realize that the recent housing bubble, which affected mainly regions with growth-management planning, was caused by planners trying to socially engineer cities. Yet it has done little to protect open space, reduce driving, or do any of the other things promised.

Politicians use government planning to allocate scarce resources on a large scale. Instead, they should make sure that markets — based on prices, incentives, and property rights — work.

Private ownership of wildlife could save endangered species such as the black-footed ferret, North America’s most-endangered mammal. Variably priced toll roads have helped reduce congestion. Pollution markets do far more to clean the air than exhortations to drive less. Giving people freedom to use their property, and ensuring only that their use does not harm others, will keep housing affordable.

Unlike planners, markets can cope with complexity. Futures markets cushion the results of unexpected changes. Markets do not preclude government ownership, but the best-managed government programs are funded out of user fees that effectively make government managers act like private owners. Rather than passing the buck by turning sticky problems over to government planners, policymakers should make sure markets give people what they want.

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/.

In Wichita, respecting the people’s right to know

The City of Wichita says it values open and transparent government. But the city’s record in providing information and records to citizens is poor, and there hasn’t been much improvement.

The City of Wichita is proud to be an open and transparent governmental agency, its officials say. Former Mayor Carl Brewer often spoke in favor of government transparency. 1

When the city received an award for transparency in 2013, Wichita City Manager Robert Layton said the city was honored. 2

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.” And the mayor’s biography on the city’s website says, “Mayor Longwell has championed many issues related to improving the community including government accountability, accessibility and transparency …”

But the reality is different. It shouldn’t be. Nearly four 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.”

But there has been little, perhaps no, improvement in the data and information made available to citizens. The Wichita Eagle has editorialized on the lack of sharing regarding the details surrounding the new baseball team. 3

While this is important and a blatant example, there are many things the city could do to improve transparency. Some are very simple.

For example, it is very common for governmental agencies post their checkbooks on their websites. Sedgwick County does, as does the Wichita school district. But not the City of Wichita.

Until a few years ago, Wichita could supply data of only limited utility. What was supplied to me was data in pdf form, and as images, not text. It would be difficult and beyond the capability of most citizens to translate the data to a useful format. Even if someone translated the reports to computer-readable format, I don’t think it would be very useful. This was a serious defect in the city’s transparency efforts.

Now, if you ask the city for this data, you’ll receive data in an Excel spreadsheet. This is an improvement. But: You may be asked to pay for this data. The city says that someday it will make check register data available, but it has been promising that for many years. See Wichita check register for the data and details on the request.

Another example: For several years, the Kansas city of Lawrence has published an economic development report letting citizens know about the activities of the city in this area. The most recent edition may be viewed here.

The Lawrence report contains enough detail and length that an executive summary is provided. This report is the type of information that cities should be providing, but the City of Wichita does not do this.

Example from the Lawrence report. Click for larger.
It’s not like the City of Wichita does not realize the desirability of providing citizens with information. In fact, Wichitans have been teased with the promise of more information in order to induce them to vote for higher taxes. During the campaign for the one cent per dollar Wichita city sales tax in 2014, a city document promised this information regarding economic development spending if the tax passed: “The process will be transparent, with reports posted online outlining expenditures and expected outcomes.” (This is what Lawrence has been doing for several years.)

The city should implement this reporting even though the sales tax did not pass. If it’s good for citizens to have this type of information if the sales tax had passed, it’s good for them to know in any circumstance, because the city (and other overlapping governmental jurisdictions) still spends a lot on economic development.

Why is this information not available? Is the communications staff overwhelmed, with no time to provide this type of information?

During the sales tax campaign Wichita city staff had time to prepare news releases with titles like “City to Compete in Chili Cook-off” and “Jerry Seinfeld Returns to Century II.” Now the city produces headlines like “Wichita Transit to Receive Good Apple Award.”

But if you want to know how the city spends economic development dollars, you won’t find that.

There are other things:

Most of all, the city simply needs to change its attitude. Here’s an example.

Citizen watchdogs need access to records and data. The City of Wichita, however, has created several not-for-profit organizations that are controlled by the city and largely funded by tax money. The three I am concerned with are the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation, Visit Wichita (the former Go Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau), and Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition, now the Greater Wichita Partnership. Each of these agencies refuses to comply with the Kansas Open Records Act, using the reasoning that they are not “public agencies” as defined in the Kansas law that’s designed to provide citizen access to records.

The city backs this interpretation. When legislation was introduced to bring these agencies under the umbrella of the Kansas Open Records Act, cities — including Wichita — protested vigorously, and the legislation went nowhere.

Recently the City of Wichita added a new tax to hotel bills that may generate $3 million per year for the convention and visitors bureau to spend. Unless the city changes its attitude towards citizens’ right to know, this money will be spent in secret.

This attitude has been the policy of the city for a long time. In 2008, Randy Brown, at one time the editorial page editor at the Wichita Eagle wrote this:

I’m fairly well acquainted with Bob Weeks, our extraconservative government watchdog. It’s fair to say that I agree with Weeks no more than one time in every 20 issues. But that one time is crucial to our democracy.

Weeks is dead-on target when he says that conducting the public’s business in secret causes citizens to lose respect for government officials and corrupts the process of democracy (“TIF public hearing was bait and switch,” Dec. 5 Opinion). And that’s what happened when significant 11th-hour changes to the already controversial and questionable tax-increment financing plan for the downtown arena neighborhood were sneaked onto the Wichita City Council’s Tuesday agenda, essentially under cover of Monday evening’s darkness.

This may not have been a technical violation of the Kansas Open Meetings Act, but it was an aggravated assault on its spirit. Among other transgressions, we had a mockery of the public hearing process rather than an open and transparent discussion of a contentious public issue.

The Wichita officials involved should publicly apologize, and the issue should be reopened. And this time, the public should be properly notified.

Randy Brown
Executive director
Kansas Sunshine Coalition for Open Government

A few years later, Brown noticed the attitude had not improved. Although he did not mention him by name, Brown addressed a concern expressed by Wichita City Council Member Pete Meitzner (district 2, east Wichita). He accurately summarized Meitzner’s revealed attitude towards government transparency and open records as “democracy is just too much trouble to deal with.”

I don’t think things have improved.


Notes

  1. For example, in his State of the City address for 2011, Brewer listed as an important goal for the city this: “And we must provide transparency in all that we do.” See https://drive.google.com/open?id=1xgx96BEXALDEgLBRcQdz2Kg0_W5x3e2J.
  2. “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.” Wichita City New Release. Available at https://www.wichita.gov/News/Pages/2013-03-18b.aspx.
  3. Wichita Eagle Editorial Board. *Fight for transparency during ‘Sunshine Week’ and year-round.” Available at https://www.kansas.com/article227430494.html.

Business improvement district proposed in Wichita

The Douglas Design District proposes to transform from a voluntary business organization to a tax-funded branch of government (but doesn’t say so).

Update: On August 21, the council approved the formation of the planning committee.

This week the Wichita City Council will consider taking the first step in forming a business improvement district (BID) in east-central Wichita. Some explanation from the agenda packet for the meeting: 1

First, there already exists a voluntary organization: “The Douglas Design District (DDD) is a voluntary organization of over 300 local businesses located near Douglas Avenue between Washington Avenue and Oliver Avenue. In 2017, the DDD established a five-year strategic plan to become a financially self-sustaining organization that is not reliant on elective membership.”

The purpose of a business improvement district: “A BID provides for the administration and financing of additional and extended services to businesses within the district and is funded by the City levying a mandatory service fee on the businesses within the district.”

Who will collect, and who will spend? “While the City levies the service fee, it can contract with a third-party organization such as the DDD to operate the BID. The approach is similar to that used by the City to contract with the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation in downtown.”

The action on the agenda this week is to establish a planning committee to develop things like district boundaries, services to be provided, and a budget. Although city documents aren’t specific, it’s likely this “service fee” will be levied as a property tax.

Are BIDs a good idea? Most information about them is provided by their boosters, that is, those who directly benefit from the service fee, which is really a tax. But there are some doubters. The New Republic, by no means a conservative publication, printed a piece arguing against BIDs, stating: “But too often BIDs have turned against the businesses they were meant to serve, making the cost of entry into a new area even higher for local merchants, or lacking the transparency needed to instill trust from the community.” 2

A larger and more balanced look at BIDs comes from Washington Monthly this summer:

The privatized structure of BIDs may raise liberals’ hackles, but it’s clear that BIDs can be a useful tool to remake neighborhoods into places where people actually want to spend their time. Many big-city mayors — who are overwhelmingly Democratic — have thrown their weight behind them. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser recently doled out grants totaling $300,000 to five neighborhoods thinking about forming their own BIDs. (One of the grantees, Dupont Circle, with the decaying park, will start collecting taxes from business owners in the fall.)

Still, there are real downsides to BIDs for renters and small business owners, who will not benefit from rising property values and may ultimately be pushed out of the area. Luckily, this isn’t a hugely difficult problem to remedy. The best, and easiest, way to revamp how BIDs are run is through city halls; they’re the ones who legislate what BIDs can and can’t do, while holding them accountable to the public. But too often, they renege on that responsibility. 3

From Canada, harsh criticism:

In this paper, we propose and develop the concept of “socio-economic hygiene” to denote the ways in which neoliberal Western urban space is spatially regulated and re-oriented towards consumption in a way that reinforces social exclusion. … We conclude by tracking how sociological strategies of “hygiene” have moved from racial and biological features to features of place and socioeconomic status, and how BIDs, resembling genocidal states in certain ways, use these strategies to continually justify their own existence. 4

Civil society, or government?

What should trouble everyone is the replacement of civil society with political society. Edward H. Crane explains: “There are basically only two ways to organize society: Coercively, through government mandates, or voluntarily, through the private interaction of individuals and associations. … In a civil society, you make the choices about your life. In a political society, someone else makes those choices.”

Right now DDD is a voluntary organization. Civil society, in other words. But now it is proposed to replace it with political society.

Why trade voluntary cooperation for the force of government? The annual report of the DDD (included in the city council agenda packet) explains: “Approximately 1/3 of businesses in DDD’s project area are DDD members yet ALL businesses benefit from DDD’s efforts. A BID eliminates this ‘free rider’ problem and, if implemented, would allow DDD to have a singular focus on implementing the BID business plan rather than always chasing membership.” For emphasis, the report notes: “THE PAYMENT OF THE BID ASSESSMENT WILL REPLACE MEMBERSHIP DUES.”

Another term for chasing membership is selling your product by showing how it creates value. If the formation of the BID is successful, the Douglas Design District will be relieved of this necessity. Will having a guaranteed source of revenue make DDD more or less responsive to its members?

Also, the DDD annual report states: “A BID assessment is not a tax.” I wonder what will happen to anyone who decides to skip paying this tax. After a few years, they will experience the blunt power of government tax collection.

Taxation without transparency

The agenda packet states this about the relationship between the city and the district: “While the City levies the service fee, it can contract with a third-party organization such as the DDD to operate the BID.”

Wichita has similar organizations. One is the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation, now known as Downtown Wichita. This organization is funded nearly entirely by tax revenue from an improvement district. Yet, it refuses to make its spending records public, and the city supports that decision. 5

Another similar taxpayer-funded organization is the city’s convention and tourism bureau, which has gone by several names over the years. Regarding it, in 2012 I wrote:

We’ve learned that city council members rely on — as Randy Brown told the council last year — facile legal reasoning to avoid oversight: “It may not be the obligation of the City of Wichita to enforce the Kansas Open Records Act legally, but certainly morally you guys have that obligation. To keep something cloudy when it should be transparent I think is foolishness on the part of any public body, and a slap in the face of the citizens of Kansas. By every definition that we’ve discovered, organizations such as Go Wichita are subject to the Kansas Open Records Act.” 6

Of interest is a segment from the KAKE Television public affairs program “This Week in Kansas” where the failure of the Wichita City Council, especially council member Pete Meitzner (district 2, east Wichita), to recognize the value of open records and open government is discussed. Video is here.

Since this time, the city has formed a business improvement district known as a TBID. It covers all hotels in the city and imposes an additional 2.75 percent tax to hotel bills, although the city and hotels call it a “City Tourism Fee.” 7 I’ve not asked for records of this spending, but I am sure the request would be rejected.

Will the Douglas Design District follow the standard set by Wichita’s other improvement districts and evade accountability and transparency?

Results from current improvement districts

The Washington Monthly piece mentions that city halls can hold BIDs accountable. But lack of transparency works against oversight and accountability.

Then, if anyone wonders what about the results of Wichita’s improvement districts, here are a few findings:

  • For the past decade business activity in downtown Wichita has been on a downhill trend. The data for 2016 (the most recent year for data) is a bit of good news, with the decline stopping and business activity remaining mostly unchanged. It isn’t the vibrant growth we’ve been told is happening in downtown Wichita, but at least things are not getting worse. 8
  • Truthfulness is in short supply. The Downtown Wichita organization has been caught in either a huge lie or gross incompetence regarding its claim of the number of people working in downtown Wichita. After brought to its attention, the number is no longer used. 9
  • Wichita economic development officials use a circuitous method of estimating the population of downtown Wichita, producing a number much higher than Census Bureau estimates. 10
  • Looking at hotel guest tax receipts, which are a surrogate for total hotel room revenue, we observe that of the largest markets in Kansas, Wichita has experienced the least growth in hotel guest tax collections since 2010. 11

Despite this record, Wichita City Hall seems satisfied with these results.


Notes

  1. City of Wichita. Agenda for August 21, 2018, Item IV-1. Available at http://www.wichita.gov/Council/Agendas/08-21-2018%20City%20Council%20Agenda%20Packet.pdf.
  2. Max Rivlin-Nadler. Business Improvement Districts Ruin Neighborhoods. The New Republic, February 19, 2016. Available at https://newrepublic.com/article/130188/business-improvement-districts-ruin-neighborhoods.
  3. Saahil Desai. One Landlord, One Vote. Available at https://washingtonmonthly.com/magazine/july-august-2018/one-landlord-one-vote/.
  4. Sanscartier, Matthew D.; Gacek, James. Out, Damned Spot: Socio-economic Hygienic Practices of Business Improvement Districts. Canadian Journal of Urban Research. Winter 2016, Vol. 25 Issue 2, p73-85.
  5. Weeks, Bob. Wichita’s open records policy is contrary to the interests of citizens. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-open-records-policy-contrary-interests-citizens/.
  6. Weeks, Bob. Wichita, again, fails at open government. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/open-records/wichita-again-fails-at-open-government/.
  7. Weeks, Bob. Wichita seeks to add more tax to hotel bills. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-seeks-add-tax-hotel-bills/.
  8. Weeks, Bob. Downtown Wichita business trends. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/downtown-wichita-business-trends-2016/.
  9. Weeks, Bob. Downtown Wichita jobs, sort of. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/downtown-wichita-jobs/.
  10. Weeks, Bob. Living in downtown Wichita. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/downtown-wichita-business-trends-2016/.
  11. Weeks, Bob. Kansas hotel tax collections. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/kansas-hotel-tax-collections/.

Downtown Wichita business trends

Click for larger.
There has been much public and private investment in Downtown Wichita. What has been the trend in business activity during this time?

According to the 2017 report from Wichita Downtown Development Corporation (now known as Downtown Wichita), over the past decade there has been $593,868,858 in private investment, $160,522,002 in public investment, and $171,087,276 investment in Intrust Bank Arena. That’s $925 million of investment in downtown over this period, with more before. 1

What has been the result of this investment? If you expected business growth in downtown Wichita, you may be disappointed. For the past decade business activity in downtown Wichita has been on a downhill trend. The data for 2016 is a bit of good news, with the decline stopping and business activity remaining mostly unchanged. It isn’t the vibrant growth we’ve been told is happening in downtown Wichita, but at least things are not getting worse.

The data

Click for larger.
The United States Census Bureau tracks business data by zip code. 2 The data that is available includes the number of business establishments, the number of employees, and the annual payroll, expressed in thousands of dollars not adjusted for inflation. It includes private-sector workers only, so it does not count all workers.

Nearby are results for zip code 67202, which has nearly the same boundaries as the Self-Supporting Municipal Improvement District (SSMID). This is a district that pays extra property tax for supporting the WDDC. Its boundaries, roughly, are from Kellogg north to Central, and the Arkansas River east to Washington. It is greater Downtown Wichita plus Old Town.

The results since 2007 show fewer business establishments, fewer people working downtown, and lower earnings generated in downtown Wichita. In nearly all cases for nearly all years, the trend is lower — except for 2016.

For 2016 the numbers are nearly unchanged, with only small changes from the previous year. The number of business establishments is down slightly, while the number of employees and annual payroll rose, also slightly.

Except for 2016, this is movement in the wrong direction, the opposite of progress. And 2016 represents merely a stop in the downhill slide, not growth. There may be good news in that the number of people living downtown may be rising. But in estimating the population of downtown Wichita, economic development officials use a circuitous method. The result of their calculations is a population much higher than Census Bureau estimates, far outside the range of probable results. 3

But business activity has been declining.

Click for larger.


Notes

  1. Downtown Wichita. State of Downtown Report, 2017. https://downtownwichita.org/user/file/2017-state-of-downtown-report-download.pdf.
  2. U.S. Census Bureau. County Business Patterns (CBP). https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/cbp/data.html.
  3. Weeks, Bob. Living in downtown Wichita. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/living-downtown-wichita/.

Wichita in ‘Best Cities for Jobs 2018’

Wichita continues to decline in economic vitality, compared to other areas.

NewGeography.com is a joint venture of Joel Kotkin and Praxis Strategy Group. Its annual “Best Cities for Jobs” project ranks metropolitan areas according to growth in employment.

Of 422 metropolitan areas considered, Wichita ranked 383, dropping 28 spots since the previous year.

Among 100 medium size metropolitan areas, Wichita ranked 93, dropping 5 spots from the previous year.

NewGeography.com uses employment data from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics from November 2006 to January 2018. 1 Last year’s publication contains a more detailed explanation of how the rankings capture current year-growth, mid-term growth, and momentum. 2

In the analysis for 2017, Wichita had also fallen in ranking.

Wichita has momentum, they say

Despite this news, Wichita leaders are in denial. Recently Greater Wichita Partnership president Jeff Fluhr told a group of young people this:

From the innovation campus at Wichita State University and development along the Arkansas River in downtown, including a new baseball stadium, to the conversations happening now about a new convention center and performing arts facility, Fluhr said the momentum is pushing to keep Wichita on par with the development of other communities around the country.

That development, which has in recent years expanded to incorporate the entire region, is a critical component to attracting and retaining talent — the exact kind of talent in the ICT Millennial Summit crowd. 3

In January Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell said, “It’s hard to find a time when we’ve had more momentum.” 4

In March Sedgwick County Commissioner David Dennis penned a column for the Wichita Eagle praising the county’s efforts in economic development. 5 Dennis is also chair of the commission this year. In his column, the commissioner wrote: “Economic development is a key topic for the Board of County Commissioners and for me in particular. Right now we have a lot of momentum to make our community a more attractive place for people and businesses.”

At the same time, the Wichita Eagle editorialized: “Wichita’s economy struggled to rebound from the last recession, which held the city back. But there have been positive economic signs of late, including a renewed focus on innovation and regional cooperation. … There also is a sense of momentum about Wichita. Yes, challenges remain, but the city seems to have turned a corner, with even greater things ahead.”6

In announcing his candidacy for Sedgwick County Commission, Wichita city council member Wichita City Council Member Pete Meitzner (district 2, east Wichita) said, “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.” 7

Given all this, it ought to be easy to find economic data supporting momentum, progress, and growth. Besides the NewGeography.com report cited above, let’s look at some other indicators.

Personal income. For the Wichita metropolitan statistical area, personal income in 2016 rose slightly from the 2015 level, but is still below the 2014 level. In real (inflation-adjusted) dollars, personal income fell in 2016. 8

Personal Income Summary, Wichita, through 2016. Click for larger.

Population. In 2000 Wichita was the 80th largest metropolitan area. In 2017 its ranking had fallen to 89. See Wichita metropolitan area population in context for more on this topic.

Trends of business activity in downtown Wichita. Click for larger.
Downtown Wichita. There’s been a lot of investment in downtown Wichita, both public and private. But since 2008 the trend is fewer business establishments, fewer people working downtown, and lower earnings generated in downtown Wichita. Almost every year these numbers are lower than the year before. This is movement in the wrong direction, the opposite of progress. There may be good news in that the number of people living downtown may be rising, but business activity is declining. 9

Employment. While officials promote the low Wichita-area unemployment rate, there is an alternative interpretation. First, the good news: The unemployment rate for the Wichita metro area declined to 3.9 percent in March 2018, down from 4.2 percent in March 2017. The number of unemployed persons declined by 8.3 percent for the same period. 10

Is Wichita’s declining unemployment rate good news, or a byproduct of something else? The unemployment rate is the ratio of the number of unemployed persons to the labor force. While the number of unemployed persons fell, so too did the labor force. It declined by 3,367 persons over the year, while the number of unemployed persons fell by 1,056. This produces a lower unemployment rate, but a shrinking labor force is not the sign of a healthy economy.

A further indication of the health of the Wichita-area economy is the number of nonfarm jobs. This number declined by 1,200 from March 2017 to March 2018, a decline of 0.4 percent. This follows a decline of 0.7 percent from February 2017 to February 2018.

Of the metropolitan areas in the United States, BLS reports that 308 had over-the-year increases in nonfarm payroll employment, 72 (including Wichita) had decreases, and 8 had no change.

Growth in output. The worst news, however, is that the Wichita-area economy shrank from 2015 to 2016. In real (inflation-adjusted) dollars, the Wichita metropolitan area gross domestic product fell by 1.4 percent. For all metropolitan areas, GDP grew by 1.7 percent. Since 2001, GDP for all metropolitan areas grew by 29.3 percent, while Wichita had 12.3 percent growth. 11

Wichita MSA employment, annual change. Click for larger.
The GDP figures are for 2016, and figures for 2017 won’t be available until September. So what happened in 2017? Could 2017 be the genesis of momentum to drive our economy forward?

While GDP figures aren’t available, jobs numbers are. For the year 2016, total nonfarm employment in the Wichita metropolitan area grew by 0.62 percent. For 2017, the growth rate was 0.56 percent — a slowdown in the rate of job growth. These job growth figures are far below the rate for the nation, which were 1.79 and 1.58 percent respectively.

Annual change in job growth, Wichita and USA through 2017. Click for larger.

Furthermore, Wichita’s job growth rate in 2016 was lower than 2015’s rate of 1.07 percent. This is momentum in the wrong direction. Nearby charts illustrate. 12

What to do?

The failure of the Wichita-area economy to thrive is a tragedy. This is compounded by Wichita leaders failing to acknowledge this, at least publicly. While we expect people like the mayor, council members, and the chamber of commerce to be cheerleaders for our city, we must wonder: Do these people know the economic statistics, or do they choose to ignore or disbelieve them?

From private conversations with some of these leaders and others, I think it’s a mix of both. Some are simply uninformed, while others are deliberately distorting the truth about the Wichita economy for political or personal gain. The people who are uninformed or misinformed can be educated, but the liars are beyond rehabilitation and should be replaced.


Notes

  1. “The methodology for our 2018 ranking largely corresponds to that used in previous years. We seek to measure the robustness of metro areas’ growth both recently and over time, with some minor corrections to mitigate the volatility that the Great Recession has introduced into the earlier parts of the time series. The ranking is based on three-month rolling averages of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ ‘state and area’ unadjusted employment data reported from November 2006 to January 2018.” 2018 How We Pick The Best Cities For Job Growth. Available at http://www.newgeography.com/content/005973-2018-how-we-pick-best-cities-job-growth.
  2. 2017 How We Pick The Best Cities For Job Growth. Available at http://www.newgeography.com/content/005618-2017-how-we-pick-best-cities-job-growth.
  3. Daniel McCoy. ICT Millennial Summit: Wichita is having a moment. Wichita Business Journal, November 30, 3017. Available at https://www.bizjournals.com/wichita/news/2017/11/30/ict-millennial-summit-wichita-is-having-a-moment.html.
  4. Heck, Josh. Emerging Leaders panel offers insight into eco-devo strategies. Available at https://www.bizjournals.com/wichita/news/2018/01/11/emerging-leaders-panel-offers-insight-into-eco.html.
  5. David Dennis. Sedgwick County part of drive to strengthen area workforce. Wichita Eagle, March 5, 2018. Available at http://www.kansas.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/article203559734.html.
  6. Wichita is moving forward. March 1, 2018. Available at http://www.kansas.com/opinion/editorials/article135573253.html.
  7. Bill Wilson. Wichita council member unveils bid for county commission. Wichita Business Journal, November 30, 3017. Available at https://www.bizjournals.com/wichita/news/2018/02/13/wichita-council-member-unveils-bid-for-county.html.
  8. Weeks, Bob. Wichita personal income up, a little. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-personal-income-up-2016/.
  9. Weeks, Bob. Downtown Wichita business trends. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/downtown-wichita-business-trends/.
  10. Weeks, Bob. Wichita unemployment rate falls. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/economics/wichita-unemployment-rate-falls-2018-03/.
  11. Weeks, Bob. Wichita economy shrinks. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/economics/wichita-economy-shrinks/.
  12. In some presentations these figures may differ slightly due to data revisions and methods of aggregation. These differences are small and not material.

Project Wichita right to look ahead at city’s future

We can understand self-serving politicians and bureaucrats. It’s what they do. But a city’s newspaper editorial board ought to be concerned with the truth.

In February the Wichita Eagle editorialized about Project Wichita, a ramping-up effort to do something about the future of Wichita. 1 It’s worthwhile to take a look at the op-ed, if only to learn something about the quality of Wichita Eagle editorial writing.

I understand civic boosterism; the desire to paint a positive image of the future. But this rosy outlook has to be based, at least loosely, on facts. Following, a look at a few claims made in the editorial.

“Our downtown is becoming more of a destination and place to live.”
The problem is this: Wichita economic development officials use a circuitous method of estimating the population of downtown Wichita, producing a number much higher than Census Bureau estimates. Downtown Wichita, the city’s economic development agency responsible for downtown, says the population of downtown is 2,138, which is far — really far — outside the range the Census Bureau gives. For more about this, see Living in downtown Wichita.

As far as a destination for business, the U.S. Census Bureau tracks business trends by zip code. For zip code 67202, which is downtown Wichita, results since 2007 show fewer business establishments, fewer people working downtown, and lower earnings generated in downtown Wichita. In all cases, the trend is lower. For more about this, see Downtown Wichita business trends.

Further, Wichita leaders have exaggerated the number of people working in downtown. For years our leaders told us there were 26,000 daytime workers in downtown Wichita. But this claim is based on misuse of data so blatant it can be described only as malpractice. In fact, this figure is now omitted from the state of downtown reports. No one will accept responsibility for this mistake. See Downtown Wichita jobs, sort of and Downtown Wichita report omits formerly prominent data.

“But Wichita feels pretty good about itself, which suggests the community is at the perfect time to think about its future.”
I have to say, we’ve been hoodwinked, and by our top leaders. Recently both the mayor of Wichita and chair of the county commission penned upbeat editorials praising our economy. See Mayor Longwell’s pep talk and Sedgwick County’s David Dennis on economic development.

But the reality is quite different. See:

Given this, why do the mayor, county commission chair, and our newspaper’s editorial board say what they do? The first two are politicians, but we ought to ask that our newspaper seek the truth, not personal political gain.

“It will get more serious in March, when students and volunteers from Wichita State University’s Public Policy and Management Center …”
This is the same organization on which the city relies for many services, including the gathering of public input in past campaigns like the 2014 sales tax election. The city seemed sure that tax would pass, but voters rejected it by a wide margin. 2

“Public Policy director Misty Bruckner and her group will deliver feedback and conclusions to Project Wichita’s four co-chairs.”
A few years ago Bruckner co-authored a paper titled “Citizen Attachment: Building Sustainable Communities.” 3 My reporting on it was titled Wichita needs more, and willing, taxpayers. An excerpt: “Increasingly, citizens are retreating from their responsibilities to community and demanding more from government than they are willing to pay for. But changes in local government behavior can be instrumental in reversing this trend, by strengthening citizens’ commitment to the well-being of their communities. Citizens who are committed to community are more willing to accept responsibility for the well-being of their fellow citizens and are also more likely to join with government and other parties to improve their communities. Citizens who are committed to community are also more willing taxpayers — that is, when government demonstrates that it can be trusted to invest public resources in ways that strengthen the community. The central thrust of this model is getting citizens and governments to work together, but realistically, many communities will require new revenue — including additional tax dollars — if they are to assemble the critical mass of resources necessary for meaningful change. Accordingly, citizens who are willing to pay increased taxes are an important component of building sustainable communities.” (emphasis added)

Please don’t fault me for being cynical when I suspect that this entire operation is designed to prepare Wichitans (or the region) for a tax increase.

“Community input will be as wide as the city limits.”
Wait a moment. I thought we were supposed to think regionally.

“Project Wichita seems similar to Visioneering Wichita …”
I wonder if anyone remembers anything positive that resulted from Visioneering Wichita. After a few years, the organization’s website went stale, and staff discontinued making presentation to the city council and county commission See Visioneering asks for money. Let’s ask these questions.

“Unlike Visioneering, Project Wichita isn’t headed by city or county government.”
Visioneering Wichita was led by the Chamber of Commerce, not government. Local governments made financial contributions to Visioneering, just as they are also contributing to Project Wichita. 4


Notes

  1. Wichita Eagle Editorial Board. Project Wichita right to look ahead at city’s future. Available at http://www.kansas.com/opinion/editorials/article198178899.html.
  2. Ryan, Kelsey. Voters soundly defeat Wichita sales tax proposal. Available at http://www.kansas.com/news/politics-government/election/article3567045.html.
  3. See http://www.gfoa.org/sites/default/files/GFR_OCT_10_24.pdf.
  4. Wichita Business Journal. Sedgwick County Commission approves Visioneering Wichita funding. Available at https://www.bizjournals.com/wichita/blog/2012/12/sedgwick-county-commission-approves.html.

Naftzger Park private use plans unsettled

An important detail regarding Naftzger Park in downtown Wichita is unsettled, and Wichitans have reason to be wary.

In the developer agreement regarding Naftzger Park passed on December 19, 2017, there was this: “The City and the Board will cooperate with Developers, upon Developers’ request, to create an Annual Master Calendar of private and public events for the Park, with the expectation that the Developers will have the use of the Park for certain private events.” 1 (In this agreement, “Board” refers to the Board of Park Commissioners of the City of Wichita, Kansas.)

Recently I asked the city if this master calendar had been created, or if there was a framework for determining how many private events can be held. According to the city, decisions are ongoing, and “According to Park & Recreation officials, what can be shared now is that the City will create and maintain a master calendar of events and programming. The developer will share in the programming responsibility and host several events throughout the year. Collaborating will ensure that the park is programmed well and active.”

Wichitans should not take comfort in learning this. We can easily imagine where the developer will want to have private events often, especially if homeless people continue using the park as a gathering spot, as is their right. “TGIF kickoff, tonight at Naftzger Park! Drinks and hot hors d’oeuvre! $15 to enter, free to residents of Lofts at Spaghetti Works and partners at Martin Pringle.”

Could this happen? How often could this happen? These are open questions, and we’re being asked to trust that city bureaucrats will negotiate a good deal for the entire city.

A panoramic view of Naftzger Park at winter’s end. Click for larger.

We shouldn’t trust the city to get a good deal for the average Wichitan. Even if the city strikes a deal that looks good, we should not trust the city to enforce the deal. Here’s an example to illustrate why.

In 2012 the city negotiated a deal with a private developer regarding an apartment development. As part of the deal, the city negotiated a provision that requires the apartment developer to pay “Additional Annual Rent” if certain conditions were met. To the casual observer, that might seem like a magnanimous gesture by the apartment developer. It made it look like the city was been a tough negotiator, hammering out a good deal for the city, letting citizens profit along with the apartment developer.

But the list of costs the developer could deduct before determining “additional annual rent” was broad, including the ability to contribute to reserve funds that would be owned by the developer. At the time, I observed, “We can be sure that if this project was ever in the position where it looked like it might have to remit ‘Additional Annual Rent’ to the city, contributions to these reserve funds would rise. Then, no funds paid to the city.” 2

As it turns out, the city did not enforce this agreement. It didn’t even ask for the information needed. Last year I became aware that the city did not ask for, and the developers did not produce, annual reports. 3

So might it happen that the private developments adjacent to Naftzger Park treat the park as their own? Recall that these developers have taken advantage of nearly every available program to fund their private developments. 4 Included in the list of benefits is a new benefit the city has offered only once before, to my knowledge: The city is paying the developer for parking spaces, on the theory they will be available to the public when the development does not need them.

Many of these benefits to the developer appeared only after the Wichita city manager said the development would not proceed, as the Wichita Eagle reported: “Plans to tear up and rebuild Naftzger Park downtown have been shelved indefinitely, after developers who own neighboring property pulled out of working with the city, Wichita City Manager Robert Layton said Friday [November 17, 2017].” 5 Somehow the deal was quickly revived, with even more taxpayer-funded benefits to the developer.

Should Wichitans trust the city to negotiate a good deal, and if it does, to enforce it? In my experience, the answer is no.


Notes

  1. DEVELOPMENT AGREEMENT between the CITY OF WICHITA, KANSAS, BOARD OF PARK COMMISSIONERS OF THE CITY OF WICHITA, KANSAS, SENECA PROPERTY, LLC, and SUNFLOWER WICHITA, LLC Dated as of January 19, 2018. Section 3.12. In the agenda packet for the December 19, 2017 Wichita city council meeting.
  2. 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/.
  3. Weeks, Bob. Wichita WaterWalk contract not followed, again. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-waterwalk-contract-not-followed/.
  4. Weeks, Bob. Naftzger Park project details. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/naftzger-park-project-details/.
  5. Lefler, Dion. Naftzger Park won’t be torn down, rebuilt after Spaghetti Works developer pulls out. Wichita Eagle, november 17, 2017. Available at http://www.kansas.com/news/politics-government/article185304103.html.

Living in downtown Wichita

Wichita economic development officials use a circuitous method of estimating the population of downtown Wichita, producing a number much higher than Census Bureau estimates.

Recently the Wichita Business Journal reported:

Getting more people to live in the core was clearly one of the most important tasks for the city. Back in 2010, the report said downtown Wichita was ripe for an additional 1,000 housing units.

That goal seems to have been met. According to a recent report from the group Downtown Wichita, 835 residential units have been completed since 2010. An additional 742 units are in development downtown, where about 2,100 people live today. 1

The report referred to is the 2017 State of Downtown Report. 2 While this report highlights the number of people living in downtown Wichita, it no longer reports the number of people working in downtown. 3

How does Downtown Wichita arrive at the number of residents in downtown? An endnote from the report gives the details:

The 2010 U.S. Census states the population in the 67202 area code is 1,393. Per Downtown Wichita records, 702 units rental units have opened in the Downtown SSMID district since 2010 when the Census was taken. Per data provided directly from the Downtown residential rental properties, the absorption rates of the market rate units has an average of 85%. Per the U.S. Census Bureau, 2011-2015 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, the average size of renter-occupied units is 1.25 persons. Therefore, an estimate for the current population is 2,138. 4

What DW has done is to take a reliable figure (the 2010 decennial census) and extrapolate forward to 2016. (Presumably 2016, as the report doesn’t say.)

But there are a few issues, as follows:

First, the calculation includes 702 rental units that have opened since 2010. Have any rental units closed since then? That would be good to know. Curious is that the report prominently mentions “835 units completed since 2010.” There have been condominiums that have opened since 2010. Why would DW use only rental units in its calculation?

Second, the DW calculation makes use of two estimates, absorption rate 5 and size of renter-occupied units. (What about size of owner-occupied units?) Each of these is an estimate that has its own error probabilities, and those errors compound when multiplied.

Third, there is no need to go through this roundabout calculation, as the Census Bureau has provided an estimate for the population of downtown in 2015. Data from the American Community Survey 6 estimates that the population in downtown Wichita for 2015 was 1,438, with a 90 percent confidence interval of plus or minus 242. 7 This means the Census Bureau is confident the population of downtown Wichita in 2015 was in the range of 1,196 to 1,680, that confidence factor being 90 percent.

But DW says the population of downtown is 2,138, which is far — really far — outside the range the Census Bureau gives for the 2015 population. While DW’s population estimate is probably for 2016, it still lies far outside the range of probability, based on Census Bureau estimates.

It’s really curious that DW doesn’t use the Census Bureau estimate of population. That population estimate comes directly from the Bureau’s American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates for 2011 to 2015. DW didn’t use that number, but it relied on the same body of data to get “average size of renter-occupied units” for 2015.

Why would DW use the Census Bureau for one datum but not another, especially when the Census Bureau data reports the statistic DW is trying on its own to estimate in a roundabout manner?

It’s simple. DW’s calculations produce 2,138 people living in downtown. The Census Bureau estimate is a much smaller number: 1,438.

By the way, DW’s calculations start with the 2010 Census Bureau population for downtown. Of the downtown population of 1,393 that year, 253 were men living in institutions like the Kansas Department of Corrections Wichita Work Release facility at Emporia and Waterman Streets. It has a capacity of 250. 8


Notes

  1. Horwath, Brian. Wichita making good on downtown master plan. Wichita Business Journal, October 26, 2017. Available at https://www.bizjournals.com/wichita/news/2017/10/26/wichita-making-good-on-downtown-master-plan.html.
  2. Downtown Wichita. 2017 State of Downtown Report. Available at https://downtownwichita.org/user/file/2017-state-of-downtown-report-download.pdf.
  3. Weeks, Bob. Downtown Wichita report omits formerly prominent data. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/downtown-wichita-report-omits-formerly-prominent-data/.
  4. 2017 State of Downtown Report, page 42.
  5. “Absorption is the amount of space or units leased within a market or submarket over a given period of time (usually one year). Absorption considers both construction of new space and demolition or removal from the market of existing space.” Institute of Real Estate Management. Calculating Absorption. Available at https://www.irem.org/education/learning-toolbox/calculating-absorption.
  6. U.S. Census Bureau, 2011-2015 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates
  7. U.S. Census Bureau. American Community Survey Accuracy of the Data (2015). Available at https://www2.census.gov/programs-surveys/acs/tech_docs/accuracy/ACS_Accuracy_of_Data_2015.pdf.
  8. See https://www.doc.ks.gov/facilities/wwrf.

Downtown Wichita report omits formerly prominent data

The new State of Downtown Wichita report for 2017 is missing something. What is it, and why is it missing?

Recently the Wichita Business Journal reported:

When you’re Jeff Fluhr, you don’t spend much time in park — it’s usually full speed ahead.

It was no different when a couple of members of the Wichita Business Journal’s newsroom visited with the president of Downtown Wichita and the Greater Wichita Partnership in early October.

On this day, Fluhr was excited to pass out copies of the 42-page 2017 “State of Downtown” report, which had just been released. 1

The new report is something better than before. 2 Actually, it’s what is left out that marks a step forward for Downtown Wichita, which is the new name for the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation.

Downtown Wichita brochure.
Previous versions of the report prominently mentioned the number of daytime workers in downtown Wichita. 3The number most often given was 26,000. But that number is missing from this year’s report. Unless I overlooked it, there is no mention of the number of workers in downtown Wichita.

Why was this number omitted from this year’s report? Earlier this year I found out that the U.S. Census Bureau data series which was the source of this statistic is not a valid measure of the number of people working downtown. That’s because the series counts all the employees of the Wichita public school district as downtown workers solely because the district’s headquarters building is downtown. 4 This means the statistic is not valid and meaningful, because most school workers don’t work at the downtown building. Instead, they’re working in schools and other facilities dispersed throughout the district. A similar anomaly exists for Wichita city workers: All are counted as though they work in the city hall building. 5

When I asked Jeff Fluhr, the president of Downtown Wichita, about this he referred my question to Jeremy Hill, the Director of Center for Economic Development and Business Research at Wichita State University. This was — seemingly — reasonable as CEDBR supplied the number to Fluhr’s organization. Hill’s response was unsatisfactory in resolving the issue. In conclusion, Hill wrote to me: “Although the center systematically questions all data sources (federal, state, private, and nonprofit) for reasonableness, limited resources (e.g. time and costs) prevent us from validating and/or cross checking every statistic. In this situation, the center used the appropriate source for the research question and the total number of people estimated to work downtown was within reason.”

The Census Bureau OnTheMap application for downtown Wichita, zip code 67202. Click for larger.
LODES data for census block 201730043001036, showing 7,740 workers.
Here’s what concerns me. This data comes from a Census Bureau application called “OnTheMap.” When using the OnTheMap application for downtown Wichita, which is zip code 67202, there are two large bright blue dots that stand out from all others. These represent the two highest concentrations of workers in downtown Wichita. One is Census block 201730043001036, which has 7,740 employees. This is a one square block area from First to Second Streets, and Wichita to Water Streets. That block, for the year of this data, held the Wichita school district headquarters building.

7,740 employees is a lot. It’s about one-fourth of the total downtown employee count claimed by Downtown Wichita and CEDBR. It’s more employees than McConnell Air Force Base has, and about twice as many that work at Koch Industries in Wichita.

Importantly, this number is eleven times the number that work at Cargill, a company which Wichita is granting many millions of dollars in incentives just to retain the company in Wichita.

Promotional material on the former Henry’s building. Click for larger.
We just have to wonder: Didn’t anyone look at this data in a serious and critical manner? A quick glance at the data by CEDBR, much less “systematically” checking for “reasonableness” should have led to questions. A quick look by Downtown Wichita staff should have spurred these inquiries: Who do all these people work for in that one block? This is a wonderful success story! How can we replicate this great accomplishment in other blocks in downtown Wichita?

And didn’t anyone at the City of Wichita — council members and bureaucrats alike — wonder about these numbers?

That didn’t happen. Or maybe it did, and someone in authority nonetheless decided to proceed to use a statistic that doesn’t mean what city leaders say it means.

That’s why I wrote it was seemingly reasonable for Fluhr to refer me to CEDBR with my questions about the data. In retrospect, it is clear this is a multi-year episode of incompetence, ineptitude, or dishonesty.

But at least this statistic is no longer used.

I asked Cindy Claycomb, who is Chair of the Executive Committee of Downtown Wichita, about this. She replied that all data sources are listed in the report, and that the board relies on the expertise of the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation staff to decide what is presented in each year’s report. She said Jeff Fluhr was the best person to address my concerns. He, as we saw, demurred to CEDBR at WSU.

(By the way, Claycomb is nearly certain to be elected to the Wichita City Council in November. Jeff Fluhr is now, besides president of Downtown Wichita, also president of Greater Wichita Partnership, the new organization regional governments rely on for economic development.)

Trends of business activity in downtown Wichita. Click for larger.
So: How many jobs are in downtown Wichita? There is another series of census data that is better, but not perfect, as it counts private-sector employees only. That data shows 13,581 workers in downtown Wichita for 2015. 6 But what’s remarkable — and disappointing — about this data series is its trend: It’s going down. The recent peak was 16,658 workers in 2008. By 2015 that number was down by 18 percent. (Again, these are private sector workers only.)


Notes

  1. Horwath, Brian. Downtown positioned for growth, despite area’s labor issues. Wichita Business Journal, October 12, 2017. Available at https://www.bizjournals.com/wichita/news/2017/10/12/downtown-positioned-for-growth-despite-areas-labor.html.
  2. Downtown Wichita. 2017 State of Downtown Report. Available at https://downtownwichita.org/user/file/2017-state-of-downtown-report-download.pdf.
  3. See, for example, the second page of the 2016 report at https://downtownwichita.org/user/file/2016_State_of_Downtown_Report_2.pdf.
  4. In summer 2017 the district moved its headquarters away from downtown to the former Southeast High School. It will be a few years before this is reflected in Census Bureau data.
  5. Weeks, Bob. The claim of 26,000 workers in downtown Wichita is based on misuse of data so blatant it can be described only as malpractice. Downtown Wichita jobs, sort of. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/downtown-wichita-jobs/.
  6. Weeks, Bob. Downtown Wichita business trends. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/downtown-wichita-business-trends/.

WichitaLiberty:TV: Wichita economy, Kansas schools

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

Shownotes

  • 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 Kansas Supreme Court decision in Gannon v. State.
  • Wichita Eagle coverage of USD 259 internet contract: Wichita district pays more in hopes of preventing internet service disruptions, Wichita school district leaving out the details, and Spending was response to cyber attacks, Wichita board president says.
  • 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.

Downtown Wichita jobs decline

By the measure of jobs used by the City of Wichita, downtown jobs declined in 2015.

Jobs in downtown Wichita, according to LEHD Origin-Destination Employment Statistics. Click for larger.
Annual change in jobs, according to LEHD Origin-Destination Employment Statistics. Click for larger.
According to a series of data from the United States Census Bureau, the number of jobs in downtown Wichita declined by 1.6 percent from 2014 to 2015.

The data, known as LEHD Origin-Destination Employment Statistics, or LODES, was updated in September to include data from 2015. 1. Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau, Longitudinal-Employer Household Dynamics Program Available at https://lehd.ces.census.gov/data/#lodes.] Downtown Wichita is defined in this case as zip code 67202, which is the same definition used by the city of Wichita, Wichita Downtown Development Corporation, and Center for Economic Growth and Business Research at Wichita State University.

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.

Trends of business activity in downtown Wichita. Click for larger.
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.

Click for larger.
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.


Notes

  1. U.S. Census Bureau. LEHD Origin-Destination Employment Statistics Data (2002-2015) [computer file
  2. Weeks, Bob. The claim of 26,000 workers in downtown Wichita is based on misuse of data so blatant it can be described only as malpractice. Downtown Wichita jobs, sort of. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/downtown-wichita-jobs/.
  3. Weeks, Bob. Growth in Downtown Wichita Jobs. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/growth-downtown-wichita-jobs/.
  4. Weeks, Bob. Downtown Wichita business trends. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/downtown-wichita-business-trends/.
  5. Weeks, Bob. The claim of 26,000 workers in downtown Wichita is based on misuse of data so blatant it can be described only as malpractice. Downtown Wichita jobs, sort of. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/downtown-wichita-jobs/.

WichitaLiberty.TV: Wichita and Kansas economies

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.

Shownotes

  • 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.)

In Wichita, not your tax dollars

At a Wichita City Council meeting, citizens are told, “These tax dollars are not your tax dollars.”

At the meeting of the Wichita City Council this week, Wichita City Council Member Lavonta Williams (district 1, northeast Wichita) lectured the audience, saying: “These tax dollars are not your tax dollars.”

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.


Notes

  1. Weeks, Bob. Naftzger Park tax increment financing (TIF). Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/naftzger-park-tax-increment-financing-tif/.
  2. Weeks, Bob. Wichita TIF projects: some background. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-tif-projects-background/.
  3. The Center City South TIF district is an unusual case in that only 70 percent of the incremental taxes are redirected.
  4. Weeks, Bob. Naftzger Park contract: Who is in control? Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/naftzger-park-wichita-contract-who-controls/.

Redesigned Naftzger Park likely not only subsidy

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.

Wichita Wholesale Grocery Company faded sign. Click for larger.
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. 6 7 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.


Notes

  1. National Park Service, National Register Digital Assets. Available at https://npgallery.nps.gov/AssetDetail/NRIS/83000440.
  2. Wichita Wholesale Grocery Company search at National Park Service, Technical Preservation Services. Captured August 14, 2017. Available at https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B97azj3TSm9MN292dHVZZ2NLcWs/.
  3. National Park Service, Technical Preservation Services. Tax Incentives for Preserving Historic Properties. Available at https://www.nps.gov/tps/tax-incentives.htm.
  4. Kansas Historical Society. State Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit. available at http://www.kshs.org/p/state-historic-rehabilitation-tax-credit/14666.
  5. “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.
  6. Weeks, Bob. Kansas historic preservation tax credits should be eliminated. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/kansas-historic-preservation-tax-credits-should-be-eliminated/.
  7. Weeks, Bob. Kansas historic preservation tax credits should not be expanded. https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/kansas-historic-preservation-tax-credits-should-not-be-expanded/.

Naftzger Park land ownership

One of the issues surrounding Naftzger Park in downtown Wichita is land ownership.

Naftzger Park land ownership from Sedgwick County Online Map Portal. Click for larger.
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.

Naftzger Park public hearing

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.

Excerpt from city documents. Click for larger.

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:


Notes

  1. Wichita City Council Agenda Packet for August 15, 2017. Item IV-2. Available at http://www.wichita.gov/Council/Agendas/08-15-2017%20City%20Council%20Agenda%20Packet.pdf.
  2. 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.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. See, for example, Weeks, Bob. Ken-Mar TIF district, the bailouts. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/ken-mar-tif-district-the-bailouts/. Also
  7. Ibid.
  8. Weeks, Bob. Naftzger Park public hearing to be considered. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/naftzger-park-public-hearing-to-be-considered/.
  9. Weeks, Bob. Wichita TIF projects: some background. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-tif-projects-background/.

WichitaLiberty.TV: Naftzger Park

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.

Shownotes

Naftzger Park construction manager

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

Trends of business activity in downtown Wichita. Click for larger.
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.”

A possible plan for Naftzger Park from the City of Wichita
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:


Notes

  1. Weeks, Bob. Upcoming Naftzger Park legislative action. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/upcoming-naftzger-park-legislative-action/.
  2. Weeks, Bob. Background on tax increment financing (TIF) as applied to Naftzger Park in downtown Wichita. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/naftzger-park-tax-increment-financing-tif/.
  3. Weeks, Bob. Downtown Wichita business trends. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/downtown-wichita-business-trends/.