Shawnee County Commission discusses concerns regarding proposed Kansas Expocentre master plan

This page from the proposed Kansas Expocentre master plan shows how it suggests Shawnee County construct two buildings — both shown in red — with those being a covered arena just south of the Expocentre’s Domer Arena and a stall barn just south of Landon Arena. (December 2017 file photo/The Capital-Journal)

Shawnee County Commissioner Kevin Cook said Thursday he was hearing concerns that a proposed Kansas Expocentre master plan focuses too much on equine-related improvements.

 

Commissioners Cook, Bob Archer and Shelly Buhler spent about 45 minutes at their morning meeting taking part in a discussion of that plan, then agreed without taking a vote to revisit it — and potentially decide whether to approve it — on Jan. 11.

Commissioners said they needed the additional time to process the feedback they’re getting from the public.

“We want to get this right,” Cook said.

Thursday’s discussion continued a dialogue the commission began Dec. 11 when it heard a report about the colorful, 118-page master plan for Expocentre improvements, which is on Page 76 of the Dec. 11 commission meeting agenda packet.

The plan seeks to maintain a balanced approached between focusing on arena improvements, equine improvements and deferred maintenance. It recommends various moves that include building a new covered arena just south of the Expocentre’s Domer Arena and building a new stall barn just south of Landon Arena.

Commissioners discussed the plan Thursday with Chuck Smith, a partner in Topeka-based HTK Architects PA, the architect for the project. Smith said he didn’t think the proposed plan was too heavily centered on any one area.

The commission also heard input from two members of the equine community.

Archer then voiced three concerns:

  • That the amount budgeted was $4 million or $5 million short of what’s needed to “make a good facility into a great facility.”
  • That he disliked the visual image of having the stall barn next to Landon Arena.
  • That the county would need to put forth an estimated annual Expocentre subsidy of only $316,000 if it took an “arena emphasis approach” instead of the estimated $619,000 subsidy that would be required under the “balanced approach” being proposed.

The $45 million Expocentre improvement project is to be financed using revenue resulting from the approval by Shawnee County voters in November 2014 of a ballot question extending for 14 years, until Dec. 31, 2031, a countywide, half-cent sales tax used to raise revenue for economic development and infrastructure improvements.

Topeka’s governing body and the county commission last year separately approved an interlocal agreement specifying how the revenue will be spent, including devoting $45 million toward improvements at the Expocentre.

The commission at Thursday’s 85-minute meeting also voted 3-0 to acknowledge it had received correspondence from District Attorney Mike Kagay about how his office negotiated a two-year contract with Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt’s office. The contract arranges for the attorney general’s office to assume responsibility for a large portion of the county’s appellate caseload, at a cost to the county of $100,000 per year.

The move will have no impact on the district attorney’s office’s budget because the money used to employ its appellate attorney will simply be transferred to the attorney general’s office, Kagay told commissioners in a memorandum dated Monday.

“The net gain for the DA will be a known, flat rate for appellate work and a guarantee that the AG will have the manpower to handle the workload more efficiently,” he wrote.

In other business, commissioners:

  • Voted 3-0 to approve Cook’s appointment of former Shawnee County counselor Rich Eckert to a Kansas Expocentre Advisory Board seat representing the county’s 2nd Commission District, which Cook represents.
  • Voted 3-0 to approve a $352,000 project budget to design and build a culvert over a tributary to Colby Creek on S.W. Morrill Road, about three-quarters of a mile south of S.W. 69th Street, with construction expected to take place in the spring of 2019.
  • Heard corrections department director Brian Cole discuss juvenile justice reform initiatives his department has carried out while noting that its average juvenile inmate population this year has been 32, which is a 45 percent decrease from last year.
  • Heard Expocentre general manager Kellen Seitz say that sales for the Jan. 24-28 presentation of “Cirque Du Soleil Crystal” at the Expocentre’s Landon Arena have been ahead of corresponding sales at other stops on the show’s tour.

Reporter Tim Hrenchir can be reached at (785) 295-1184 or @timhrenchir on Twitter.

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