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City approves Wichita Wind Surge ballpark area development incentives

It’s not the deal originally planned for a new Wichita Wind Surge ballpark, but it’s the one we have, as the city steps forward with $11.3 million in incentives for development at the waterfront facility.

Of course, the path between now and the original blueprint for Riverfront Stadium and the move of the New Orleans Baby Cakes to Wichita is a very convoluted one, with the original plan bearing little resemblance to the reality of the current situation. The original plan called for the city to build a new ballpark and making land available for development by the Wind Surge owners. A variation on a very familiar premise playing out time and time again in the professional sports world.

Along the way, however, we saw the death of a key player in the proceedings, a worldwide pandemic that shut down Minor League Baseball, a reorganization of MiLB that saw the Wind Surge dropped to the Double-A Texas League, a lingering economic hangover from the COVID shutdown and a sale of the team to an organization that doesn’t seem to place the premium on ballpark-derived development that we see from other MiLB owners.

So we are at the point now where the team has walked away from the development of land at the ballpark site, acquired for $1/acre, leaving it up to the city to move forward. And the city has, awarding $11.3 million in TIF-based incentives to EPC Real Estate Group for building a parking ramp, housing and a hotel at the ballpark area. TIF financing was already used to back the Wichita Wind Surge ballpark bonding, but at the time it was not seen as a tool for additional development. The argument is that changes in the development plan could yield higher city revenues, so it makes sense to alter that original development plan; sticking to “original promises” after everything that’s happened since the original 2019 plan is an act of stubbornness, not one of vision. From the Wichita Eagle:

City officials say the new project will generate more money to pay for the stadium than the 2019 plan, through other tax dollars generated by the EPC development. Anderson said the city plans to receive $39.8 million through the EPC development deal versus $18.6 million in the 2019 plan. New property taxes above $11.3 million will go back to the city.

“So a significantly better position for the city now than back in 2019 when the city entered into that original development agreement,” [Troy Anderson, assistant city manager for economic development] said.

The major change is the addition of a hotel instead of an office building, which will generate additional tax revenue through local hotel taxes.

What originally was a $65-million development is now a $100 million+ development. An eight-story hotel is still part of the Wichita Wind Surge ballpark development, along with an adjoining parking ramp. The office component has been scrapped in favor of residential. And the goal of integrating the hotel into the ballpark experience will still hold true.

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