Wichita leaders say new stadium deal will spur development, despite questions over transparency

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Wichita's city leaders say they're working to make the process of building a new AAA baseball stadium more transparent.  But they say they've had to operate by the minor league's rules and the rules of competition, making public discussion of negotiations difficult.  They believe the struggle to balance those different concerns will be worth it for the entire city.

Mayor Jeff Longwell pointed to private development apparently already  underway around the stadium, as an example of what a good deal this will be for Wichita... even as he says the city is working to make the entire process more transparent.
"If you look at cities that have been successful, the Charlottes, the Raleighs, the Oklahoma Cities, the Durhams, the Greenvilles, all of those cities have put in new stadiums and they've seen development around those stadiums just absolutely take off," Longwell said Thursday morning. 

Longwell says the ongoing construction of a new AAA baseball stadium in Wichita is already spurring development here, as well.  He pointed to Townstreet Partners purchases of much of the property along the western edge of the stadium site over the last couple of years.

"We don't know what all of their plans are, because we haven't been able to sit down and go into any discussion with them," he said.  "In fact, we hope to very soon."

"When you look at the west riverbank, and for the last ten years and more there's been no development activity," said Councilman Bryan Frye about why he thinks the stadium development is so important. 

City leaders say this development is worth the struggles they've faced with voters upset over an apparent lack of transparency.  Even as voters have complained about learning about deals just days before the council voted, council members say they've run into troubles with Minor League Baseball officials for saying too much, too soon.

The mayor got a letter in January 2018 referencing an interview he'd done with a local TV station about trying to bring a minor league team to town.  The letter says no team yet had permission to talk with Wichita and talking out of turn carries a $50,000 fine.

"These negotiations are difficult," Frye said.  "There are only so many minor league teams you can negotiate with and their rules are you can only negotiate with one at a time."

Now that they can talk, city leaders say they're working to make sure Wichitans get to have their say, too.  They held a social media question and answer session earlier this week to discuss a deal that would allow a development company partially owned by one of the  new baseball team's owners to buy four acres around the stadium and along the river for $1 an acre.  This next Tuesday, the city council moved its regular meeting from 9 am to 6pm so more Wichitans can attend.  The council expects to vote on the $1 an acre deal at that meeting.

"I think this is maybe the second or third time that we've held an evening council meeting," Longwell said.  "We said, 'Let's go ahead and move this to the evening. Because of all of the involvement we're getting from the public.'"