- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 17, 2014

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - The Topeka City Council will not take any major action on a controversial proposal to buy the Heartland Park racetrack before the end of the year.

Council members were told Tuesday that city staff would not make a recommendation on a potential buyer before Jan. 6. Also, an appeals court ruling on a pending stay sought by opponents of the city’s plan to buy the track likely won’t be announced until at least mid-January, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported (https://bit.ly/1zs5kOS ).

Opponents believe the city’s decision to buy the racetrack and find a buyer or manager is not financially sound. They gathered enough signatures to put the matter to a citywide vote, but the city sued to stop that vote.

A Shawnee County judge ruled last month that the petition drive was invalid because state law does not allow an initiative petition to overturn an administrative order. That ruling was appealed and the city is awaiting a Kansas Court of Appeals ruling.

“We expect them to rule on this pretty quickly, but it’s the Court of Appeals, and they’ll rule when they rule,” City Attorney Chad Sublet said Tuesday.

City leaders voted in August to authorize the purchase of Heartland Park, in part to solve a shortfall that began in 2006 when Topeka issued $10.46 million in STAR bonds to finance improvements at the racing park. The city intended to use sales tax revenue to pay off the bonds but the racetrack’s STAR bond revenue was not enough and property tax revenue was used to make up the difference.

City manager Jim Colson has said the city will be able to break even on the STAR bond debt, partly by expanding the redevelopment district around the racetrack.

The city on Monday announced it had received four qualifying proposals to operate the racetrack.

Colson said the city is looking for an agency to run the business only as a racetrack for the entire year.

“We’re very much focused on somebody who is going to bring a comprehensive approach to this,” Colson said. “You can’t have a facility that’s built around one weekend.”

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Information from: The Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal, https://www.cjonline.com

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