By Rebecca White
KWCH 12 Eyewitness News
February 2, 2012
The Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce announced Thursday its support of public development dollars for the Ambassador Hotel in downtown Wichita.
The announcement came in a speech by the Chamber Chairman, Walter Berry, on the state of the Chamber along with Mayor Carl Brewer and Sedgwick County Commission Chairman Tim Norton.
Berry said that the “bar has been raised” in recruiting employers to Wichita as the city is competing against other states and countries.
“Today’s companies are looking for, and many communities are providing, additional resources such as free or reduced land or buildings, closing funds, workforce training dollars and tax incentives, just to name a few,” said Berry.
Berry said the Chamber’s support for the Ambassador Hotel comes from observations that a “vibrant downtown contributes to a thriving community which in turn, sparks recruiting success for both business and people.”
The Ambassador Hotel has created controversy among some Wichitans. The hotel is part of a public private partnership development plan. The hotel was offered a a multi million dollar incentive package, including the ability to keep 75% of the guest tax generated. Normally the guest tax goes back to the city for organizations like the Convention and Visitor's Bureau.
A local group is trying to overtun that portion of the incentive package. It gathered enough signatures to prompt a public vote on the issue February 28th.
The Mayor says the public needs to realize there's a three to one private to public investment ratio for the hotel.
“Our new downtown incentive policy ensures that developers are significantly invested in all projects and that tax payers are protected,” said Brewer.
Berry said Boeing’s recent decision to leave Wichita and the 2005 decision to sell its Wichita commercial operations to Spirit AeroSystems, reflect a significant change for all businesses to which the community must respond.
“Boeing’s decisions, both in 2005 and again this year, were both influenced by a new world reality: A global marketplace where the rules of engagement have changed very dramatically in a short amount of time,” says Berry. “Where businesses have to be much more flexible to quickly adapt to change and where the definition of economic development is being transformed on almost a daily basis.”
Norton said leaders need to know what the community expects for today and the future.
“We need to hear from all of you and the community about what you expect and what you are willing to pay for,” says Norton.
Berry encouraged the several hundred people who attended the meeting to vote in favor of the Ambassador Hotel on February 28th.
“Are we ready to become more competitive or are we willing just accept our losses one at a time,” asked Berry. “Are we willing to really stretch over the next five to ten years to get in the game and to win jobs,” he challenged the crowd.
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