Titled simply “LAND PURCHASE CONTRACT — Presented by Chris Chronis, CFO” and accompanied by a recommendation to approve the contract, this item might have slipped public notice if not for Dion Lefler’s Wichita Eagle story the day before.
Four members of the public — one being myself — attended the meeting to speak to the commissioners on this matter.
There was one other person who attended for the same reason. I’m not including him as “public,” because as chairman of a quasi-governmental body, he seems to hold special status before the commission. He was able to give input to the commissioners, while none of the public were able to do the same.
I don’t fault the commission for shutting off the public speakers. Not too much, anyway, as there will be a public hearing on this matter at next Wednesday’s meeting. We’ll ask our questions then. The problem is that we will likely ask questions that haven’t been asked before — questions that need answers. Will the commission be in the mood to delay action another week or more so that these questions can be answered?
There are many reasons to be skeptical of the claimed need to move forward quickly on this item. One that troubles me is that the organization that wants this industrial park, the Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition, has been trying to market this very park for over five years. What has changed now? How has this organization earned our trust?
At Wednesday’s meeting, even basic questions such as the width of the railroad right-of-way could not be answered.
There’s also the issue of deannexation of the property by Bel Aire. Part of the deal requires Bel Aire to spend $4.1 million to provide water and sewer service to the park. But if the land is no longer in that small city, what incentive do they have to spend this money?
Perhaps the most important reason is that there are many developers in Wichita who own land — empty buildings too — that are suitable for industrial park-style use. When government gets involved and competes with them, it greatly affects these developers’ business. Government has many advantages that the private sector doesn’t have, such as the ability to buy and develop land, using taxpayer funds, with little consideration of risk. Then, it can — and often does — give it away.
Under these conditions, what motivation do entrepreneurs have to raise capital and assume huge risk, just to have government step in and destroy their investment?