Topeka city manager Jim Colson on Tuesday evening made what appeared to be his first public acknowledgement that the city’s proposed purchase of Heartland Park Topeka might not go through.
Colson told reporters after that evening’s council meeting: “We’re going to continue to talk to the potential operators of the facility and see if we can get a deal through, but we’re realistic. It may be difficult to bring this thing home.”
Colson gave the council an update at Tuesday’s 26-minute meeting about the city’s efforts to find someone who will buy the financially struggling facility, or lease it and operate it for the city.
Colson then told reporters he was continuing to try to make the arrangement work but the matter had become something of a distraction, in light of everything else the city has before it.
“We have a $255 million budget and what we’re trying to do is solve a million dollar problem here,” Colson said. “We can’t get distracted from everything that’s going on in the city. So we think it’s good but we are committed to doing the right thing, and the right thing is what’s legal and what’s in the best interest of the city of Topeka.”
The city announced last month it had received proposals from four entities that met its required qualifications: MK Investments, Larry Sinks, Monopoly Acquisitions LLC and International Motorsports Entertainment and Development Corp.
Colson told the council Tuesday the city was continuing to have discussions with two of those, which he didn’t identify.
He said one had expressed concern over the status of legal challenges and procedural concerns involved, and continued to be interested but was currently “holding back.”
Colson said the other also feels concerned but is “pushing on” with its proposal.
He said he anticipated the city would get a letter of intent from that entity outlining what it intends to do.
Colson had hoped last month to see the city staff seek bids Tuesday to purchase the project’s STAR Bonds, then come back before the governing body with pricing to formally adopt those bids, but the city put those moves on hold to deal with other concerns.
Colson told council members the city’s legal staff was preparing to take part in a court hearing Wednesday morning linked to the purchase, while city officials planned to hold their initial meeting Friday morning with a legislative post-audit committee that’s looking at it.
The Kansas Court of Appeals plans at 10 a.m. Wednesday to hear oral arguments from both sides on Topekan Chris Imming’s motion asking the court to issue a stay prohibiting Topeka’s city government from moving forward with the purchase while Imming’s appeal of a recent court decision in the city’s favor remains in progress.
Imming is asking the court to overturn Shawnee County District Judge Larry Hendricks’ ruling invalidating a petition drive Imming coordinated seeking to put the purchase to a citywide vote.
Meanwhile, the Kansas Legislative Post-Audit Committee voted last month to look into whether the re-issuance of Sales Tax Revenue (STAR) bonds to finance the city’s purchase of Heartland Park Topeka meets state requirements,
Colson told council members Tuesday the city was continuing to try to close the purchase because — while the proposed deal is not perfect — it would benefit the city financially.
“We look forward to resolving everything one way or the other,” he said.
Council members also watched Tuesday as city administrative and financial services director Doug Gerber recognized staff members while noting that the Government Finance Officers Association had awarded the city the Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting.
The Certificate of Achievement is the highest form of recognition in governmental accounting and financial reporting, and it was awarded to only 24 other cities and one county in Kansas, Gerber said.
The city of Topeka last received the award in about 2008, Colson said.