June 13, 2024

Keeping Media and Government Accountable.

Business leaders won’t rule out a tax increase for Wichita Riverfront project

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The private organizations pushing the Riverfront Legacy Masterplan won’t rule out tax increases for changes to Century II and the east bank of the Arkansas River in Wichita.

At the first open house for the public to hear the official pitch from stakeholders of the Riverfront Legacy Masterplan the hundreds of people in the audience heard the phrase “dream big” over and over again. The second floor of the Boat House in Downtown Wichita was decorated with large posters of multi-use venues; most around the Midwest, including the Henry B. Gonzalez convention center in San Antonio and Oklahoma City’s under-construction convention center. Todd Voth, a principal with Populous Architecture firm told attendees, “This is a moment to create your future.”

Dreaming big comes with a big price tag, but the downtown groups pushing the plan – Downtown Wichita, Greater Wichita Partnership, Wichita Community Foundation, Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce and Visit Wichita – are hesitant to discuss any specifics of a potential tax increase to fund any development. Evan Rosell, Vice President of Projects with the Greater Wichita Partnership, says this is because there is not a concrete idea of what will happen to the area.

“When you talk about dreaming big, we are talking about a rare opportunity to think in terms of all of the different properties and such a high-value area,” says Rosell. “But also realize that a pie in the sky vision that is not tied to reality has very little chance of coming to fruition.”

Andrew Wiens with the Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce also avoided discussing funding or a tax increase.

“I hesitate to speculate what that will look like, you know I think there is a lot of dynamism on the east riverfront, so people are talking about a big vision, but at the end of the day you need to pay for it.”

According to Jeff Fluhr, president of The Greater Wichita Partnership, consultants are looking at several different strategies and consider the economic realities of the region during the current planning period. He says then funding will be taken into account.

“Through that process looking at all the different options to fund it,” says Fluhr.

Dave Trabert, president of Kansas Policy Institute (which also owns The Sentinel), says asking people to ‘dream big’ without taking funding into account is a form of ‘bait-and-switch’ and doesn’t produce realistic input from the community.

“Citizens can’t share informed opinions when the price is left out of the discussion.  ‘Would you be willing to pay a higher sales tax for the Riverfront plan’ elicits a much different response from many people than just asking them to ‘dream big.’  The ‘dream big’ approach is often used to justify tax increases down the road, but Wichitans are already burdened by three consecutive years of income tax hikes, property taxes continue to rise faster than inflation, and the sales tax rate is not competitive.”

The next opportunity to learn more about the Riverfront Legacy Master Plan and potential future for Century II is a series of urban explorations of the riverfront property on September 24th and 25th. Click here for more information on the tours.

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