Wichita, Kansas, has a long history with minor league baseball. Since 1934 Lawrence-Dumont Stadium in Downtown Wichita saw countless games, from Major League affiliated teams to independent clubs. But ever since the city lost its previous affiliated team in 2007, there were calls for a new stadium. Supporters said it would attract a new club. Even better, they said it would have a major economic impact.
The city of Wichita saw it as a winning economic formula. In September 2018 they announced that by investing $75 million in a new stadium, they could attract a Triple-A affiliate. In other words, Wichita Mayer Jeff Longwell already had a deal with the Triple-A affiliate of the Miami Marlins.
Later branded the “Wichita Wind Surge”, the club would return affiliated professional baseball to Wichita. Similarly, Longwell said his deal would lead to economic growth. The first step was to tear down Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. In its place a state-of-the-art facility called Riverfront Stadium would usher in a new era of baseball and prosperity.
It would just take a $75 million investment. In order to pay for it city officials planned to use various tax packages. However, they promised the team would have a big economic impact worthy of that investment.
A rough and winding road to opening day
Several months after the initial flashy announcement, the city of Wichita made another more understated one. It was selling nearly four acres of undeveloped land around the stadium to a development group. The group happened to include the team’s owners. After that, many residents called foul. They were concerned about not only the cost, but also the complete lack of transparency. This was only the beginning of the issues the team and city would face before opening day.
Riverfront Stadium was originally slated to open for the 2020 Minor League baseball season. However, the COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancelling of the season. The team suffered other issues as well. Team founder and owner Lou Schwechheimer passed away after COVID-19 complications. The Wind Surge shifted to a Double-A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins. In spite of this, the project moved forward while baseball fans eagerly waited updates.
The 2021 season is almost underway, and with it the debut of the Wind Surge. With the new stadium slated to open later this week, local NBC affiliate KSN News investigated the economic impact on the region. Would the stadium ultimately help with economic growth?
ISEG Executive Director Featured on KNS News on economic impact of Wichita’s new baseball stadium
On April 9, 2021, Dr. Ted Bolema, Executive Director of the Institute for the Study of Economic Growth (ISEG), was interviewed on air for KSN 3 TV News. Dr. Bolema spoke on air about the new Wichita baseball stadium. Dr. Bolema explained how the regional economic impact could be muted without drawing significant attendance from outside of the local areas. While the neighboring Delano District could see positive activity, a mere shifting of local dollars was the most likely outcome.
“If it’s mostly local people going and a lot of local people go to the game, that’s all money that was already in the Wichita area” Bolema explained. “It’s just being spent in a different place than it otherwise would’ve been — unless a team is drawing from outside of the Wichita area, it’s not really adding to the Wichita economy.”
Watch Dr. Bolema’s appearance below or at KSN News.