Reluctant council sets Feb. 28 for election on hotel subsidy referendum

UPDATE: The Wichita City Council has just voted to hold the referendum election on Feb. 28.

The decision was 6-1 with council member Lavonta Williams in dissent.

The council expressed reluctance to wait that long but approved the election date after Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman told the council that the time was needed to avoid errors and to mail ballots to military voters overseas and in other states.

Lehman said it would be “ill advised” to try to hold the election sooner.

The Wichita City Council just pushed back taking a vote on setting the date for a referendum election on a subsidy for a downtown hotel, saying they want the vote sooner than the election commissioner’s office has said it could hold it.

A letter from the county counsel’s office said the soonest that the election commissioner could hold the citywide public vote would be Feb. 28.

Council members said they want the vote to come sooner because they believe an extended campaign will slow development downtown and elsewhere.

At stake is an estimated $2.25 million subsidy for the planned Ambassador Hotel, a 117-room, $22.5 million boutique hotel planned for the former Union National Bank building at Douglas and Broadway. The money to fund the subsidy would come from allowing the hotel to keep 75 percent of the bed tax paid by hotel guests for 15 years.

The subsidy was forced to a public election by a petition drive, led by the free-market group Americans for Prosperity.

Petitioners gathered 2,719 signatures of verified Wichita voters to force a vote, more than the 2,527 signatures needed.

The council today has to either repeal the subsidy or set an election date.

But the council members weren’t happy with the Feb. 28 date and pushed the item to the end of the agenda.

They asked their staff to contact Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman and ask her to come to the council meeting to discuss setting an eariler election date.

Check back for updates.