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Great Bend City Council quick reads for Sept. 21, 2020
quick reads events center pic
Brentwood Builders personnel work on the Great Bend Events Center office complex Wednesday afternoon. The project to renovate a portion of the office complex should be substantially complete in about a month. - photo by DALE HOGG Great Bend Tribune

COVID-19 impact felt by local hotels

It’s a cautious optimism that met the third quarter transient guest tax collection totals, Great Bend Community Coordinator and Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Christina Hayes reported Monday night. She reported on the numbers in her monthly report to the City Council and the impact on local hotels of COVID-19.

She said they had a CVB Board meeting last Friday. “There were some good things that came from it.”

Among them was the guest tax collection info. This is the tax paid by “heads in beds,” or those staying in local lodging establishments, and 1% funds the Events Center and 5% funds the CVB.

“You can see the numbers there, it is way, way lower, and we were set to have a record year,” she said, presenting the numbers to the council. “Our best year ever was 2018 and we were hoping to be in line with that.”

But, quarter three (March through May) dashed those hopes.

The third quarter total was $40,758.15, down sharply from over $100,000 and $62,000 in the first and second quarters respectively. By contrast, the third quarter figures were over $88,000 in 2018 and over $100,000 in 2019.

The record-setting year-end total for 2018 was nearly $350,000. So far for 2020, the cumulative total is $204,053.42.

“This was just the start of COVID and things started shutting down,” Hayes said. “Of course, the hardest hit were the hotels.”

However, “we’re hoping we are going to rebound,” she said. “The hotels did feel hopeful. They are not having their big working crews come back in yet, but they’re seeing a lot of hunters.”

Hayes also mentioned the Community Competition Analysis. “This is really nice because it is comparing transient guest tax and sales tax with some of our sister cities.”

These aren’t always apples to apples comparisons, she said of similar-sized communities. Hays, for example, may be close to the same population, but it has new hotels, a four-year-college and I-70.

Great Bend’s guest tax rate is 6% and sale tax rate is 8.25%, both about in the middle of the pack compared to similar cities. The rates in Hays are 5% and 8.75%.

However, the guest tax netted Great Bend $305,000 in 2019, with the sales tax bringing in $2.5 million. By contrast, the guest tax raked in over a $1 million for Hays with the sale tax adding another $9 million.

“So it’s really not a good comparison,” Hayes said. But, “I think we are holding our own.”  

Hunting a boon for Cheyenne Bottoms

A glimmer of hope for local hotels reeling from the loss of business due to COVID-19 has been a large influx of hunters, said Christina Hayes, community coordinator and Convention and Visitors Bureau director. She was giving an update to the City Council Monday night.

The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism Cheyenne Bottoms Area Manager Jason Wagner and Kansas Wetlands Education Center Director Curtis Wolf share updates on the popular wetlands. 

“So, teal season is happening right now,” Hayes said, adding the Bottoms saw 851 hunters last Saturday and 549 on Sunday. The average on Saturday was 5.29 teal per hunter and three per hunter on Sunday, for an estimated 5,018 teal taken over the weekend.

Using data from KDWPT, which requires hunters to sign in electronically via their phones, she said 77.75% of the hunters were residents and 22.25% were non-residents. “Which is awesome because it’s about 8% more non residents this year than last year.”

Hotel owners, Wolf and Wagner see a lot of hunting promise this year, Hayes said. Birds are plentiful and with COVID, hunting is an activity that allows folks to be outdoors and distanced.

“We think Great Bend could just boom this year because of our wetlands,” she said. 

North Main drainage project nearly complete 

During an update to the City Council Monday night, Great Bend City Administrator Kendal Francis said work on drainage issues on North Main Street at 24th street is nearing completion. The work, which started in May, will eventually continue eastward along 24th and the U.S. 281 bypass to help alleviate some of the flooding in the area.

“They still have some erosion control things to take care of,” he said. Street Department crews cleaned out culverts and regraded ditches. Culvert replacements are also in the plan.

Weather, street repairs and some emergency projects cropped up and delayed the project.

Events Center remodeling moving along

The project to renovate portions of the Great Bend Events Center is “moving along nicely,” City Administrator Kendal Francis told the City Council Monday night. The demolition was completed in June and flooring should be installed this week.

Francis said they are waiting on door jams to arrive this week to allow them to finish tiling the bathrooms. They are still waiting on bathroom partitions, which are on back order, and new doors for the remodeled part of the structure, which may not arrive for three to four weeks.

“But, it looks like we will have substantial completion in about a month,” he said. “Then we can start occupying rooms and moving in furniture.”

The council in May approved an over $500,000 renovation to a portion of the long-vacant office complex attached to the back of the venue. The project went to Brentwood Builders of Great Bend who tapped Moeder Plumbing, Heating and Air (Great Bend) and Haynes Electric (Larned) as the mechanical and electrical subcontractors.

Included in the renovation is 7,000 square feet on the office complex first floor. This leaves 21,000 square feet in the remainder of the building.

This work includes the Great Bend Economic Development Inc. office and secretarial space, two 75-120 person breakout rooms to use with the center to bring in bigger conventions, and extra space for the Convention and Visitors Bureau (for storage and preparing visitor packets). Both Eco Devo and the CVB are already housed in the center.

Work on dragstrip progressing

There was a pre-construction meeting on the project to renovate the historic Sunflower Rod and Custom Association drag strip at the Great Bend Expo Complex, City Administrator Kendal Francis said in a report to the City Council Monday night. 

“Our tentative start date for that project is Oct. 12,” he said. “This week will be the final races, and then there will be time for SRCA to remove their barricade walls and the timing system.”

In July, the council approved a bid from Suchy Construction of Great Bend of $1,601,206.54 for the race track. In October 2019, the city was awarded funding through the Kansas Department of Transportation Cost Share program for the demolition and reconstruction of the dragstrip.  

This is one of two cost-share projects the Kansas Department of Transportation approved for the city, the other being the resurfacing of a big stretch of 10th Street totaling $3.3 million.

quick reads drag strip pic
Prep work for the Lucas Oil Regional Division Race at the Sunflower Rod and Custom Association drag strip at the Great Bend Expo Complex takes place Thursday afternoon. The renovation of the track will likely start in mid October. - photo by DALE HOGG Great Bend Tribune