In December 2014, the Garden City Commission approved an ordinance to create a STAR Bond district on the city’s east side that would use a portion of city and state sales taxes to build a major league soccer training and development facility.
More than three years later, that original plan, first proposed by Sporting Kansas City, Kansas City’s professional soccer franchise, has taken on a different look, with a more local and personal approach.
On Jan. 17, Kansas Department of Commerce interim secretary Nick Jordan notified the City of Garden City that the project was approved and that KDOC had authorized the issuance of $25.4 million in revenue bonds.
The project, now called Sports of the World Complex, will be located on approximately 32 acres on the east side of Garden City near Stone Development and Schulman Crossing, and will be developed by GC Investments, Inc., the project developer that is owned by Cecil O’Brate and Amro Samy.
While plans are still in the development stage of what the project might consist of, GC Investments spokesman HJ Swender said that the process is moving along at a good pace.
Sales Tax Revenue (STAR) Bonds provide Kansas municipalities the opportunity to issue bonds to finance the development of major commercial, entertainment and tourism areas and to use the sales tax revenue generated by the development to pay off the bonds. In order to be considered a major commercial entertainment and tourism area, a project must be capable of being characterized as a statewide and regional destination. Projects should include high quality, innovative entertainment and tourism attractions, as well as contain unique features that will increase tourism, generate significant positive economic impacts and be capable of sustainable development over time.
“We’ve had preliminary plans now for some time, but we’ve made some adjustments, changes as we understand more what we want the facility to be,” Swender said recently. “We get one shot at this, and we want to be sure that we have a facility that will meet the needs, not only of the Garden City area, but a much larger geographic area to draw people into Garden City and make it a destination city.”
Swender identified soccer fields, basketball and volleyball courts, and indoor baseball and softball facilities as the most likely components of the facility, currently estimated to cover approximately 150,000 square feet.
Plans, which are still subject to changes and/or modifications, include three soccer fields that can be converted to two full-size fields; four basketball courts that can be converted into eight volleyball courts; and the soccer fields potentially converting to a football field that would be large enough to conduct 7-on-7 competitions.
“We’ve traveled to places all over the country to see what are the most popular facilities, and we’re evaluating them as to how they would fit our needs here,” Swender said.
Other components may include a Jump Park, comprised of trampolines, something Swender said has become popular in larger metropolitan cities. A restaurant with an outdoor seating area and covered canopy is also in the works, along with viewing areas that may include sand volleyball courts and pickle ball courts.
“When we have the finished project, there will be nothing like it west of Wichita and east of Denver,” Swender said. “We want it to be the sports hub of western Kansas, and also north of Amarillo.”
Still yet to be done, however, will be the final negotiation of the developer’s agreement between the City of Garden City and GC Investments. Once that agreement is signed, and Swender hopes that will happen in the near future, stage three is the private placement of the revenue bonds with investors. The fourth and final stage is construction, something Swender hopes will begin by the end of this year.
GC Investments became involved in the project last fall, with some specific goals in mind, Swender said.
“Our number one goal was to finalize the vision of the project, which we hope to do that in the next couple of months,” he said. “Once we accomplish the STAR Bond components, I think the project should roll out fairly smoothly.”
Swender had high praise for city officials, as well as Finney County Economic Development Corp. officials.
“Until we got involved in the fall, the FCEDC carried the ball on the project,” he said. “They have done an incredible job of evaluating all the possibilities for this type of project. What we’re really doing is all sports activities are being looked at.”
Lona DuVall, president and CEO of the FCEDC, said the organization saw the potential of the STAR Bond project as a way to continue to build on the momentum of other economic development projects that are now operational that came into existence over the past decade.
“When the city set up the (STAR Bond) district, we realized what a great opportunity it would be for our community and the area,” she said. “There’s a lot of rules in place, and it’s a very detailed project, so we just wanted to be sure that things moved along smoothly until we could find a developer.”
DuVall said she was pleased to have a local developer involved in the project.
“We looked at several, and in evaluating them, felt like GC Investments has a wealth of experience locally and were committed to making the project the best one possible,” she said. “This adds greatly to the quality of life, and it’s another attraction tool for people to live here. We have a great deal of faith and trust in GC Investments and are confident we’ve made the right choice.”
Project costs are still not set, but preliminary estimates are in the range of $30 million, with the portion above the bond issuance to be covered by GC Investments.
“We will have a large fiscal responsibility, and that’s why we want to be sure that what we’re proposing is feasible and economical,” Swender said.
In the early stages of the project possibilities, an ice skating rink for indoor hockey and public skating was under consideration, and Swender said they are still looking at that potential.
“The thing we want to be sure is that what facilities we have will have longevity to being successful in bringing people to Garden City,” he said. “Garden City has been really good to all of us in the company, and this is our opportunity to do something exceptional to improve the quality of life for our citizens and the surrounding areas.”
STAR Bonds are usually used to finance destination projects intended to attract at least 30 percent of visitors from 100 miles away or more. A feasibility study completed by the city indicates that the local project is anticipated to attract about 1.1 million visitors to Garden City per year.
Assistant to the City Manager Steve Cottrell said in January that it was estimated if the project had been operational in 2017, about $2.9 million would have been generated in revenues from sales generated by tourism and local patronage. This year, that number would have been closer to $3.4 million, he said.
DuVall said the project is a win-win for everyone involved, from the city to the county and the surrounding geographic area that could encompass New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Oklahoma, Missouri and Kansas.
“Even though we are a somewhat remote location, from a large facility aspect, this will provide a place for people to bring their teams to participate in major tournaments,” she said. “What we’ve done with our retail business is that we’ve done a very good job of attracting people to visit.”
DuVall said she was pleased that GC Investments had decided to get involved in the project.
“They certainly have a proven success record here,” she said of O’Brate and Samy, who also own and operate the Clarion Inn/Samy’s Spirits and Steakhouse, Sleep Inn, Heritage Inn Suites, Old Chicago and Parrot Cove indoor water park. “I think they will be very careful in the final decisions as to what sports to accommodate. There’s no question it will have a big impact on attracting new people to visit Garden City. It’s a project to allow dollars to come to us and to the state.”
DuVall said that one of the goals of the project will be to attract events on weekends, as local hotels do well already during the business week, but have a large number of rooms available on weekends.
“We still struggle with that,” she said. “We want to find the right kind of events to fill up our hotel rooms, and this will be a huge step forward.”
Swender said the timeline for completion was still unknown.
Contact Brett Marshall at firstname.lastname@example.org.