Wichitans want more time to consider sale of land to new baseball team owner

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WICHITA, Kan. (KAKE) -

"Everything's public at this point.  You can get everything from the financial numbers to the exact description of the land exchanges.  All of that is available now," said Jeff Longwell, Wichita's Mayor.

He's talking about the new details released Tuesday at the City Council meeting about a plan to sell city land to the new AAA baseball team's owners for $1 an acre.  The deal includes performance standards for development that the company will have to meet and buy back options for the city.

Several Wichitans are upset they didn't have more time to learn these details before Tuesday's meeting.  It all comes down to who knew what, when about the deal.

"It all just came into place within the last few weeks," Longwell said.  "So there hasn't been an opportunity to go out and say, 'Well, we're working on this, we're working on that.'  It's been part of the negotiation process."

The proposed deal would let a company called Wichita Riverfront LP purchase about four acres on the edges of the new stadium and along the river by the stadium for $1 an acre.  That land would be used for development - restaurants, shops, entertainment venues.

If the company moves fast enough, it will then have the option to purchase a fifth plot further away for between $1,000,000 and $1,500,000, depending on the type of planned development.  If the company is too slow, the city will e able to buy the land back, for the same price it sold at.

As folks hear more about the proposed sale, they're less concerned with the details but still upset at being left out of the process. Wichita's mayor says that's part of dealing with a minor league baseball team. that he's already been reprimanded by the commissioner for saying too much.

"I received a letter from the minor league commissioner of baseball that reprimanded me for sharing anything publicly," Longwell said.  "It said, 'You're not allowed to share anything publicly when you're negotiating with one of our teams.'  You have to be granted permission every step through the process... Once we finalize the negotiations in good faith, then it can all be made public."

Something Longwell says has now happened.  But folks like Christopher Parisho, who lives up the road from the stadium site, say they feel like they're being left out of the planning process.

"There's a lot of the stuff that's been talked about and agreed to that's never been discussed with Delano," said Parisho.  "There's little details like this that were never mentioned in the master plan when they presented that."

"My concern is that I feel like we're throwing away a lot of our future opportunities because of our giving away of the property," said Todd Ramsey, who also spoke to the city council Tuesday, demanding more transparency.

Parisho was one of several people to ask for a delay in voting on the sale agreement.  

"Let's take a breath, slow down, make sure that we're not giving the baby away with the bathwater, sort of thing," he explained.  "Let's make sure that the deal that we're entering into is one that benefits everybody."

The mayor says a big part of the reason for bringing a AAA baseball team to town is to help stop the brain drain in Wichita and keep young professionals here.  Business owner Toby Ramsey told the council Tuesday to keep young professionals in town, they need to be more transparent.

"There's all this talk about  what young professionals are wanting in this community," Ramsey said.  "I think what we're wanting is we're wanting a clear vision and we're wanting to be engaged with that vision."

Some council members are asking anyone with questions or concerns to contact them before this issue comes up again on March 19th.

"Let's find out what the questions are and see if we can get those answered in two weeks," said Council member Cindy Claycomb.  "And then we can make a decision in two weeks if two weeks has been long enough."

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