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Convention center plans suffer blow

4/24/2014

By MATTHEW KENWRIGHT

mkenwright@dailynews.net

The plan for a Hays convention center has suffered a potential setback after Walmart raised concerns about its role in funding the facility's construction.

The retailer is among approximately 30 businesses that might apply a special 0.65-percent sales tax, said Aaron White, executive director for the Ellis County Coalition for Economic Development. Although the corporation's policy states its stores remain neutral in these matters, Walmart is indicating it might not support the measure, he said.

"They're looking like they'll probably be changing their position on the CID district," White said.

Delia Garcia, director of communications for Walmart's public affairs and government relations, said the retailer wants more businesses to join Walmart in the CID.

"The Hays Walmart has proudly served area customers for nearly 30 years and has a history of supporting local causes and issues that benefit the community, including support for construction of the proposed convention center," Garcia said. "We encourage development of a Community Improvement District plan that results in broader participation so that funding of an amenity with community-wide benefit, like the convention center, is made more equitable."

The Kansas Department of Revenue cannot release how much businesses would collect in the district, but White estimated Walmart would be responsible for 65 percent of the total funds collected from the sales tax and the transient guest tax.

The retailer is the "engine" of the CID, he said.

"Without Walmart, the funding stream does not work, so we need to discuss how we're going to proceed," White said.

The convention center's task force will meet today and discuss a response. Kansas law states only 55 percent of businesses inside the CID have to sign the petition to establish the area.

The situation with Walmart remains unchanged because it was not going to sign because of its initial neutrality, White said.

Toby Dougherty, Hays city manager, said Walmart asked him to share its concerns about the CID's non-inclusive nature with the Hays City Commission.

"Their quote was they don't necessarily have an issue with the convention center itself, they have an issue with the way the CID district is being structured," Dougherty said.

Mayor Henry Schwaller IV said the commission has not seen the proposal yet, but it was his understanding other grocery stores and businesses near Walmart would not be in the CID. Walmart also would be the primary revenue generator despite not benefiting much from a convention center, he said.

"It makes perfect sense Walmart would have misgivings and not want to participate in it," Schwaller said.

The mayor expressed concern about relying on one business for a large share of the revenue. Possibly including Walmart in the CID despite their objections is a deal-breaker for him, he said.

"I absolutely oppose it," Schwaller said. "I oppose adding a business without its consent, I oppose any sales tax on food and over the counter medicines, and that logic is why this proposal will not work. Period. It is dead. No commissioner will vote for this. It is over."

Vice Mayor Eber Phelps said he wants to see a finalized proposal before sharing how he might vote on the measure.