(WICHITA, Kan.) — An effort is underway to overturn a decision made by the Wichita City Council. Tuesday the council approved several tax incentives to build a hotel inside an old building at Douglas and Broadway.
They voiced their opinions. "Look we need the tax money, the city needs the tax money," Lynda Tyler told the Wichita City Council Tuesday. But when the city council approved millions of dollars in incentives for the Ambassador Hotel, opponents looked for another option.
"We're hoping the city does have an election and voters will be able to say whether they agree with these subsidies," said Susan Estes. She's the field director for Americans for Prosperity. The group plans to circulate a petition. If they get about 2,500 signatures the city would hold a special election. The petition number is based on 10% of the number of people who voted in the last city election. An election is estimated to cost $50,000 and would be paid for by the developer.
If a special election happens, Wichita voters would decide whether the developer can keep one of six tax incentives. It's the guest tax and for this hotel the developers can keep 75% of the money generated. That tax money usually goes towards funding tourism in Wichita. "Taxation is being turned right back over to private interests for private benefits," said Bob Weeks. Americans for Prosperity has 60 days to collect signatures. If they get them all, a special election would be held within 90 days.
Wichita Economic Development Director Allen Bell says if the city didn't want to have a special election, the city council could rescind the vote. However, he says if that happens, more of the incentives would go away. He says the developer wouldn't get property tax exemptions if that happens.
Bell says this is the first time the guest tax is being used as a rebate for a developer. He says for the Hyatt, Old Town Hotel and the Fairfield Inn at Waterwalk the city made direct financial contributions. He says they then used a portion of the guest tax to pay themselves back that money.
Developer Paul Coury says the guest tax does make a significant impact on the project. He says he doesn't understand why the group is so upset by the tax, since it's already being charged to guests. He says it's not a new tax it's just being used in a different way.