Fieldhouse Project chair Gail Urban pulled no punches in a packed city commission work session on Tuesday night as she fielded questions from the Manhattan city commission.
The project is expected to have an initial cost of $54,194,604. Project contractor Evan Eleff says the estimates indicate that after a five year “maturation” the facilities would be bringing in $36,440,923 by hosting 79 tournaments. The figure includes givens such as $100 dollar per diem for participants and 1.5 spectators.
Several community members came forward to show their support for the project including MHS wrestling coach Robert Gonzalez, and Wamego Chamber president Lance White.
The commission raised questions, and commissioner Usha Reddi said she needed more details before making a decision on the project. Reddi says it seems that the facility would be geared more towards affluent families, and further disenfranchise lower income families. Urban replied to the comment by stating there was a fund set aside to help pay for lower income families, and that the facility would be accessible for the community.
Commissioner Wynn Butler said as it stood there was no way he would support the project given the enormity of the price tag, and posited that the project would cause the city to reach the debt limit. Several commissioners stated they would feel more comfortable putting the issue to a ballot, but Butler said he wouldn’t support that initiative.
Commissioner Rich Jankovich, and Mayor John Matta joined the rest of the commission in asking pointed questions on the viability of the project and the particulars. Matta asked the contractor if there had been a case where the projections were off, and a project became a liability. After some back and forth Eleff admitted the project was aggressive for a community, but it was becoming the norm fro aggressive communities. Jankovich and Butler plumbed out some of the numbers and showed how a proposed 1/2 cent sales tax addition would have to be kept active for the duration of operations. Jankovich made a point to say if it was a regional asset it there should be regional support for the project.
Commissioner Karen McCulloh stated she was worried about another regressive tax being levied onto the community, and wondered if the project couldn’t be phased in to reduce some of the costs. McCulloh also congratulated the project team for seeing a need in the community and doing something about it.
As the item came to public comment several community members came forward to give their thoughts on the proposed fieldhouse. Richard Hill came forward to address the commission, and said he was worried about how the project would impact the community due to competition and more property taxes.
City staff were directed to put together an initial fact finding initiative and bring it to the commission during their retreat in a couple of weeks.
The second half of the meeting entailed a detailed briefing on current economic development projects by assistant city manager Jason Hilgers. During the briefing chamber of commerce representative Trent Armbrust told the commission Continental Mills will begin factory operations on January 6th of 2014.