- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 21, 2015

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) - Hutchinson residents will vote in April on a proposed 0.35 percent sales tax increase to fund a $29 million project for improving the city’s sports arena, which was built in 1962.

Supporters of the effort got a boost Tuesday when The National Junior College Athletic Association said it would keep its men’s national championship basketball tournament in Hutchinson for another 25 years if the Sports Arena is significantly improved. After hearing that, the Hutchinson City Council voted to put the proposal on the April 7 ballot, The Hutchinson News reported (http://bit.ly/1CACLOy ).

“It will be a vote that is going to define this community for the next generation,” Hutchinson/Reno County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jason Ball said.

NJCAA Executive Director Mary Ellen Leicht said in a letter that the organization’s executive committee had approved the 25-year contract, if the Hutchinson Sports Arena is renovated. The tournament, which has been in Hutchinson since 1949, currently is under a 10-year contract that ends in 2017, with an option for three more years.

Efforts to upgrade the aging arena began two years ago when City Manager John Deardoff raised concerns about inadequate locker rooms, restrooms, media areas and meeting and hospitality space, as well as not having a full-size gym for teams to use for practice or warm ups.

A committee worked with two architectural firms to develop a plan that includes repairing and renovating the existing structure and building two additions. One addition would have a new main entrance and lobby, concession stands, significantly more restrooms, elevators and office and meeting space. The other would add two full-size practice gyms, a weight room and mechanical and storage space.

If the tax increase is approved, it would bring the total sales tax to 8.75 percent and take effect July 1, or as soon thereafter as the state could begin collecting it. The tax increase, which would generate about $3 million a year, would expire 10 years after collection begins.

Hutchinson Community College also will contribute $4.5 million to the project, in $500,000 installments over nine years.

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Information from: The Hutchinson (Kan.) News, http://www.hutchnews.com

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