Let’s go back to 2018. The city announces they have a deal with an ownership group to bring minor league baseball to Wichita! What are the details? Well, they will tell you, but later. But listen to the leaders of the city talk about what this ballpark will do to the city.
- The mayor of Wichita tells locals that this new ballpark will be a “quality of like amenity” that will pay for itself and “generate tax revenue for the city”.
- A city councilman informed residents that even though the city “is giving developers about $800,000” worth of land, the city will see “millions of dollars in investments”.
- Wichita’s Assistant City Manager claimed that the city’s projected the ballpark to produce “enough revenue…to cover the debt service on the stadium”. Heck, he states that the ballpark could produce “even better” than the city’s projections.
- The city of Wichita issued a press release that has quite a few big claims:
- The new ballpark will have 7,000 seats and a capacity for 4,000 more
- The brand-new entertainment district will include “retail, dining and other amenities”.
- Three new buildings will be constructed adjacent to the new ballpark, one of which is to be a hotel.
- The ownership group promised “significant improvements” to the nearby Arkansas River.
- “The Ballpark District will feature unprecedented views, tremendous visibility, and other desirable amenities”.
After the city of Wichita and the ownership group came to an agreement behind closed doors, numerous months passed. During this time, the city began to tear down the old ballpark and began to build the new one. Keep in mind that at this moment, residents still had no idea what the city had agreed to in this deal.
Then it leaked through the press that the city wasn’t just paying for a new ballpark but was also handing over 4 acres of “prime riverfront land” for $1 dollar apiece. In addition, the city allowed the ownership group to have an “option to buy another property across the river within the next 10 years” for a discounted rate. The city got significant pushback from citizens about handing over a very desirable and expensive piece of property for just $4 total dollars.
So the owners of the team pulled back and decided to pay full price for the land. Just kidding, they began to threaten their new city:
The New Orleans Baby Cakes won’t move to Wichita unless the city approves a real estate deal allowing the team to develop the area around the stadium, Mayor Jeff Longwell said. “This was term number one,” Longwell said of the team’s owners…“We get to develop some land around the stadium or we don’t need to negotiate any further.” – Kansas.com, 03/06/2019
But why not just tell the public about the deal before you had already begun building the new ballpark? The Mayor has several answers to that question.
- The mayor couldn’t tell the public sooner “because of league rules”. He never told us what rules he was referencing and frankly, none such exists.
- The mayor couldn’t because the new owners mandated that the deal “was contingent on the development deal … not made public until Monday, months after Lawrence-Dumont Stadium was torn down and as a new stadium is being built.”
- The mayor couldn’t because the city website was down, even though the city had “intended to post the agreement online”.
- The mayor then insists that he wishes he had told the public sooner. Except, he claimed earlier that baseball rules barred him from talking.
Ever since the city of Wichita agreed to build a ballpark for a new minor league team, it has been pushed back and back and back for a variety of different reasons. Some the fault of the city and others the fault of the ownership group of the baseball team. The original completion date was 2020. Then 2022. Then 2024. Now, they don’t know.
But how did this deal get so messed up? Let’s look at how it started in 2018:
City Council members…approved a memorandum of understanding with its new Triple-A team, the New Orleans Baby Cakes…The city will build a $75 million stadium…and will spend another $6 million on riverfront renovations…The minor league team will cover the cost of utilities, staffing and maintenance at the new ballpark, in addition to paying $350,000 annually in rent.
The agreement was a last-minute addition to the city’s agenda, something Vice Mayor Bryan Frye said was concerning. “I understand this is an MOU, but I only got it about an hour ago,” he said. “That’s pretty frustrating and disappointing for us to try get through all of us and understand all of the ramifications and then vote on it today.” – KMUW, 09/11/2018
Oh, so zero time to actually look at it? Gotcha. Everything makes more sense now. On one hand, we have city officials that don’t know what they are doing. For example, when a city official gave a presentation about the ballpark’s finances and forgetting to include interest in the numbers….something that frankly should never be done.
On the other hand, you have an ownership group who has no idea what they are doing either. Like when they hired a developer who applied for a permit, rescinding it for no reason and then just did nothing. Things got so bad that the city began sending the ownership groups “notices that they were in default of their agreement”. You may wonder why the city didn’t just take these idiots to court. Because the city of Wichita needed “development to happen quickly so it can pay off debt on the $85 million (ballpark)”.
Today, there are new owners for the baseball team. But the city plans on giving them the same deal as the old owners (there are a few slight changes, but it really is the same). Why? Sigh…“job creation, economic growth, a broadened tax base and an overall investment in the city”. The Wichita Eagle did a good job summarizing this entire thing by stating that “It would not be unfair to say that not much has gone as planned for the Wind Surge or the development around its stadium”.