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Neighbors express frustration over new plans for Riverfront development

Neighbors express frustration over new plans for Riverfront development

WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) – Changes keep coming to Wichita’s Riverfront.

The latest will bring a nearly $75 million redevelopment project to McLean and Maple, on the southeast side of the baseball stadium.

The project will go before the City Council Tuesday for a public hearing.

It includes a nearly $14.6 million public investment. It will use American Rescue Plan Act funds totaling $5.5 million, part of which was awarded to the city last week. Through Tax Increment Financing (TIF), $8.6 million is allocated to the project for public infrastructure. There’s also $906,500 in Industrial Revenue Bonds (IRB) for sales tax exemption for the office component.

The city said this project would bring in $23.8 million in net new revenue for the city. For some living in Delano, the development doesn’t come as a surprise; but how it’s paid for does.

“Then comes along the whole changes to the TIF. That was a surprise,” Delano Neighborhood Association President Christopher Parisho said.

On the southeast side of the new baseball stadium, a hotel running along the Arkansas River, two office buildings on the stadium side of McLean, a parking garage and Riverfront improvements are planned.

Parisho said part of the surprise is the plan would put in $8.6 million in tax increment financing or TIF funds.

“Originally, the TIF was supposed to be to pay for the stadium, which is public property; we understand that not everybody agrees with it, but that’s what we ended up understanding things would be. Now, they what to change the TIF, to pay for development on land that the city sold for a $1 an acre, so are taxpayers paying for private development of private land,” Parisho said. “Everybody is just kind of scratching their heads wondering what’s going on because there’s been no commutation.”

Created in 2017 and expanded in 2019, this TIF was part of the city’s way to pay for the new stadium. Part of the discussion Tuesday at the city council is a technical change to the boundaries of the 2017 and 2019 portions into the same project areas.

“It brings the TIF documents up to standard in terms of the maps that we’re using and also updates some of the financing mechanisms,” said Wichita Interim Assistant City Manager Kathy Sexton.

It will encompass most of the commercial properties and businesses in Delano.

”We pay for the stadium through several different mechanisms that are all basically sales taxes and property taxes coming in from development, private businesses around the stadium, in the near vicinity of the stadium. When those businesses get billed and start operating, they bring in sales tax money and property tax money. When those moneys come in, instead of using those citywide for all government purposes, we have segregated them into a fund, and those funds will pay for the bonds that we used to build the stadium.”

Pasisho said the biggest frustration is a lack of information on the changes to the TIF.

“We knew there would be continued development around the stadium. That was part of the original deal, but the changes to the TIF and things like, there’s been no real communication with us or with any of the people who are going to be affected that we’re aware of,” he said.

While the project is primarily privately funded, the City of Wichita explained the proposed changes to the TIF would use some of those funds for public elements of this project.

“Proposing that we give a little bit more TIF, an incremental property tax, to fund this development and the public infrastructure, specifically, the Riverfront improvements, the parking garage and some of the public aspects,” said Wichita Interim Assistant City Manager Kathy Sexton.

This will include utilities and site work. A pedestrian bridge is also being planned to cross the Arkansas River.

This project also draws on $5.5 million in ARPA funds going to Riverfront improvements, $1.5 million of which would cover half the costs of a sky bridge over McLean, connecting the new developments and stadium. The developer would cover the remaining half.

“There’s a lot of pieces to this project, and it’s actually a really exciting project. Last week, we were very please that the state saw the economic development values of giving a BASE grant of $5 million to this project,” said Sexton. She went on to say, “We’ve tried to improve the riverfront like in front of RiverVista Apartments, for example, done other improvements over the years, but this will be this part in front of this hotel on the West Bank, and those are expensive, but they’re valuable for the public so people can use the riverfront and enjoy.

“Some of that BASE grant will go to a sky bridge connecting the hotel across McLean to one of the office buildings, and then when you get to the office building, you can keep going through and get to the stadium, so there’s a public purpose involved,” she added.

Sexton said there is a market for these types of developments being sought after the pandemic, where workplaces with easily accessible amenities are valued.

“Makes the river more activated, and it’s vital, I think to making places where people want to live,” Sexton said.

But those living in Delano said it’s still frustrating when it comes to communication of these kinds of projects.

“It’s been an issue ever since I’ve lived here of trying to get communication with the city about things,” Parisho said. “It seems like we have to beg and plead with them whenever there’s something big like this. Other things, smaller things, they don’t have a problem communicating with us on like Douglas here [in Delano] is supposed to be getting resurfaced over the 6-8 months. It needs it, it’s been a long time since it’s been resurfaced, so they’ve been talking to us, trying to figure out the best game plan.”

Parisho said a better game plan needs to be presented for this project when he said some of the parts came with little forewarning.

“When they’re just quiet on something and then spring it on us at the last second, right before it’s getting ready to go get approved before the city council, it makes a lot of people wonder what’s hidden in there that they didn’t want us to see,” said Parisho.

He said he would like a pause to get more feedback and for more time to look at this project.

A timeline provided in the plan slates construction to start this summer and finish in 2024. This is a quicker timeline than was initially expected for this project.

The public will have a chance to be heard on the project during Tuesday’s council meeting.

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