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Urban planning to be explored in Wichita

As Wichita is presently engaged in a downtown planning process that holds the promise of more centralized planning, more government spending, and tax increases, Wichitans need to be aware of alternatives.

Noted author and Cato Institute Senior Fellow Randal O’Toole will be in Wichita next week for several events. O’Toole is author of The Best-Laid Plans: How Government Planning Harms Your Quality of Life, Your Pocketbook, and Your Future and more recently Gridlock: Why We’re Stuck in Traffic and What to Do About It.

O’Toole’s biography at the Cato Institute states:

Randal O’Toole is a Cato Institute Senior Fellow working on urban growth, public land, and transportation issues. O’Toole’s research on national forest management, culminating in his 1988 book, Reforming the Forest Service, has had a major influence on Forest Service policy and on-the-ground management. His analysis of urban land-use and transportation issues, brought together in his 2001 book, The Vanishing Automobile and Other Urban Myths, has influenced decisions in cities across the country. In his most recent book, The Best-Laid Plans, O’Toole calls for repealing federal, state, and local planning laws and proposes reforms that can help solve social and environmental problems without heavy-handed government regulation. O’Toole is the author of numerous Cato papers. He has also written for Regulation magazine as well as op-eds and articles for numerous other national journals and newspapers. O’Toole travels extensively and has spoken about free-market environmental issues dozens of cities. An Oregon native, O’Toole was educated in forestry at Oregon State University and in economics at the University of Oregon.

O’Toole will deliver a free public lecture titled “Is There a Better Alternative to Urban Planning?” on Thursday February 4. The location is the Bank of America auditorium at Douglas and Broadway, starting at 7:00 pm.

The Kansas chapter of Americans for Prosperity is the sponsor for this event. While there is no charge for admission to the lecture, it is helpful if those planning to attend would register by clicking on Is There a Better Alternative to Urban Planning?

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7 Comments

  1. CarlosMayans January 28, 2010

    In “Suburban Nation” The rise of sprawl and the decline of the American Dream, the authors deliver a passionate, stylish manifesto on community quality of life and the revival of dowtown areas, but the loathing of the suburbs has now morphed into a political movement. In Wichita, the lack of leadership by elected officials undermine the real potential of our City. The participation of the private sector will be meaningful in the long run only if it is driven by the profit motive, because in America ideas live or die based upon their performance in the marketplace. While there are ways in which government intervention is necessary—-most obviously in rolling back federal, state and municipal policies that continue to impede progress—-government subsidies alone will not create positive outcomes.

  2. Joyce Middleton January 29, 2010

    I am certainly not an expert on the planning of Urban Wichita but I do wonder why, for example the “Water Walk” is in such disarray. How many years has the work on it been in planning. All I see are a lot of empty lots that are very unslightly. I guess in the beginning I had visions of something that looked similar to the River Walk in San Antonio. That is a place to enjoy, either walking and shopping in the little stores that line the banks, or sitting at an outside restaurant watching the people float by on boats, or just people watch. It isn’t expensive and is very relaxing and enjoyable.

  3. Pat January 31, 2010

    Urban planning is Wichita hasn’t been a problem. Wichita has managed growth that has not led to urban sprawl as seen in many parts of the country. Contrary to the first post, our local elected officials have “led” by staying out and not interfering with orderly growth.

    As to realizing the economic potential of the city, the private sector is doing a good job. Spirit is expanding in North Carolina. Boeing is building a new assembly plant in South Carolina. Hawker is moving jobs to Mexico. I’d say our local policies of not interfering with their plans are doing quite well for the city.

  4. Pat January 31, 2010

    BTW, Joyce, the initial vision for Water Walk was very similar to yours and it’s unfortunate that it has never transpired. There are a number of reasons and perspectives as to why it has never transpired. Depends on who you’re asking.

  5. Wildhorse February 3, 2010

    Concerning the proposed Marriott Fairfield Inn, at WaterWalk, the hotel will provide 130 rooms costing in the neighborhood of twelve million dollars. Hotel Developer Jim Korroch, owner of Four-G LLC asked the Wichita City Council to approve his company’s “Letter of Intent”. The Council did so yesterday, after dispensing with six taxpayers who voiced their opposition against the public/private partnership. The Council-endorsed taxpayer funding and favored exclusivity against other “would be” private developers was their main focus. The Council also heard approval for the Korroch’s request from representatives of WaterWalk, GO Wichita, Urban Development Director Allen Bell and City Manager Robert Layton. All council members approved, except for one “abstain” from council member Paul Gray.
    From previous research, it is reported that $9.5 million would be financed by the developers’ bank, while the City Council would cover the remaining $2.5 million dollars, in taxpayer subsidy. Think of it as “seed” money. More about that later……
    Some simple division will reveal that the rooms will run about $92,307 each, give or take a nickel or two.
    I believe that $92,000 a room is a tad high for the neighborhood. Consider the following:
    Merriott Corporation, performed a recent feasibility study and has noted that the market will bear approximately $65,000 per room. A difference of $27,307 per room multiplied by 130 rooms totals $3,549,910! After subtracting that number from $12 million, the project’s grand sum is reduced to $8,450,090! According to local developer Johnny Stevens, whose company developed The Waterfront at 13th and Webb Road, the typical “no frills” room would be in the low range of $45,000 to a high of $55,000. What with features consisting of “location, finish and urban design”, the average rises to the 92K number, according to Allen Bell.
    Merriott Corp holds that the 65K number includes the above features and perks in their study. I would like the councils’ and Mayors’ perspective on what other specifications and features, enable these projected costs, to arrive at over 40% of even the Marriot’s market value for the WaterWalk business community. The council denied lack of transparency, but it was apparent that full disclosure was not the rule of the day, either.
    Using the parent company’s lower rate of 8.5 million dollars, the hotel could be totally financed by Korroch’s bank, without using any taxpayer “stimulus”. For some unknown reason, those who watch over us for the common good had and have other ideas.
    There is also the question of the Councils’ previously stated “gap analysis”. What are the fundamental assumptions in the equation that results in the 12 million dollar total?
    Are there unnecessary specifications to be removed, reducing the cost, yet still have the profit driven impact we desire for our city?
    When compared to past projects, such as the Intrust Arena or the Warren Theatre, what criteria does the City Council use to measure the impact of these decisions….. Will the project be a success that can be duplicated, OR…a loss that will be duplicated?
    Inquiring taxpayers who pay property taxes, Industrial Revenue Bonds, School Bonds, mill levy hikes; who get sued by school districts….taxpayers such as myself, my neighbors, those I work with, as well as those who are out of work want to know and truly need to know. C’mon, Mr. Mayor…show us the criteria!
    There seems to be present, an Alinsky-ite premise, “the ends, justifies the means”. According to Councilman Paul Gray, giving captured taxpayer funds to developers has been “going on in Kansas since the 1870’s” and “it’s unlikely to stop now”. A friend of mine upon hearing that commentary responded, “Wow, I’m glad they didn’t say that about slavery!” Is there ever a time the City Council investigates the prospect of a non-public-funded project, before breaking ground? Maybe, but not this time.
    Maybe this council does desire transparency as much as we all do. Maybe the reason they didn’t share copies of the Development Budget and Analysis with those present was to save money. If money was the issue though, they wouldn’t be showering developers with taxpayer money while hosing the taxpayer…to think we could have had Bass Pro!
    I am of the belief that government, be it Federal, State or local, should not be in the business of competing with private industry. Government should be in the business of governing, and ONLY governing.
    To be fair, it’s not hard to grasp the City Council’s sense of urgency, it is legitimate. Councilman Jim Skelton noted in the February 1st article of the Wichita Eagle, there is $41,000,000 of TIF bonds to pay back. Don’t forget that the WaterWalk acreage was sold for $1.00 for 99 years…now that’s going to make a dent in the bond payback. Director Allen Bell offered that the reason for the give-away was to attract “quality developers to the project”. Maybe the city would attract quality drivers to our streets if we just handed out free license tags.
    Concerning the councils’ mode of operation, it’s not all their fault. I did ask them at yesterdays’ city council meeting to hold off and get more feedback from their constituency. The truth? I knew six citizens that were present. Five shared their opposition at previous council meetings. Two of us spoke on this issue for the first time.
    Call it pure speculation on my part, but that was all the “sign” the City Council needed. You see, they weren’t impressed with our little group. They voted to approve this “taxpayer stimulus option” with the letter of intent, because “their constituency” did provide feedback. The Council was very impressed by the masses of local taxpayers… they DIDN’T see at the meeting.
    While the Council honors their oath and does the best they can, researching options; perhaps we, “the constituency”, should honor our pledge and do a better job researching our options.
    By omission, have we victimized ourselves?

  6. Pat February 3, 2010

    Wildhorse, Good comments and thoughts. Appreciate your thoughtful consideration without all the political ideology.

  7. Pat February 3, 2010

    PS – Nice job on your presentation. Your public speaking skills are excellent.

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