Following news of a professional baseball team failing in Kansas City, Kansas and owing at least $550,000 to local government, The Sentinel asked City Council members some questions about the viability of their planned $75 million Wichita baseball stadium. Every member refused to answer these questions:
- Given the failures of past baseball teams in Wichita to drive the economic growth you seek, why do you believe this new venture will be successful? Why did previous teams fail, and how will Wichita prevent a repeat of those failures?
- The T-Bones team in Kansas City, Kansas was arguably located in a much stronger tourism area than the proposed Wichita site, yet it failed. Why will the new Wichita team be successful in contrast to the T-Bones?
- Reference has been made in city council meetings of studies referenced that confirm the viability of a stadium, but except for the initial feasibility study, nothing else can be located. Were there any other studies, and if so, were they made available to the public? If no, why not?
- Did the City do an analysis of the T-Bones failure as part of its viability studies?
- How are the number of out-of-town visitors going to be measured, and how will that number be verified?
Cindy Claycomb and Brandon Johnson wrote back saying the questions would be answered by city staff; Becky Tuttle forwarded our email to city staff. Jeff Blubaugh, James Clendenin, Bryan Frye, and Mayor Jeff Longwell did not respond to The Sentinel’s email.
Elyse Mohler, Director of Strategic Communications, replied on behalf of the city but she didn’t directly answer any of the questions put to council members. Moehler’s email read in part:
“With the renewed interest in the downtown area of our city, as well as development along our riverfront, Wichita is confident a new Triple-A baseball stadium will revitalize the core of our city even further. This rebirth of the downtown will create an engaging atmosphere and new entertainment district that is anchored by a multi-use stadium that will not only be home to some great baseball, but it will host 200 additional events every year. Since Wichita does not have a Major League team, Triple-A baseball will provide fans with some great action.”
The stadium feasibility study, which the state requires as part of the application for STAR Bonds, projects 888,400 annual visitors but provides no justification for the estimate.
The city estimates 463,400 visitors to the new Wichita baseball stadium and 370,000 visitors to area restaurants and retailers; the balance of their estimate is for a baseball museum and hotel visits.
The Wichita Wingnuts, a non-affiliated professional team playing at Lawrence Dumont Stadium (the same location of the new stadium) attracted just 145,212 in 2015. That means the city thinks more than three times as many people will attend games played by the new major league affiliate, with no rationale.
The Wingnuts attendance figures come from the feasibility study prepared by the Center for Economic Development and Business Research at Wichita State University for the Stryker Sports Complex.
The city also provides no basis the 370,000 projected visitors to restaurants and retailers, but even if correct, most of the economic activity from those visits would just be shifted from other parts of the city and result in no net economic gain.
Pattie Bradley, Economist with the Institute for the Study of Economic Growth at Wichita State University, says, “That is generally what we call a substitution effect. Any given family or person has ‘X’ number of dollars of disposable income. We can chose to spend that at the baseball stadium, Intrust Bank Arena, the zoo, the theatres, wherever we want to spend that in town. Or we can take those dollars and take them out of town. There is a fixed rate of entertainment dollars. The things that would general grow the economy would be things that increase the income of the people. We have more money; we have more money to spend.”
This isn’t the first time city officials and elected representatives on city council ignored transparency requests on the Wichita baseball stadium. Wichita resident Debra Miller Stevens took out a full-page ad in the Wichita Eagle hoping to shame city officials into answering her question after they repeatedly ignored her written requests. The Sentinel asked the city if they would respond to Stevens, but the city also ignored that request.
Editor’s note: the original version of this story erroneously identified the Wichita Wingnuts as a major league affiliate; they were a professional team but not affiliated with a major league team. We regret the error.