Topeka Council gives green light to sale of STAR bonds for Heartland Park

TOPEKA (KSNT) – The Topeka City Council approved a move Tuesday night to approve the issuance of more than $5 million in STAR bonds to improve the area around the financially troubled Heartland Park Race Track.

“Save $10 million, keep the track going, and keep the sales tax going, keep it going uninterrupted if possible,” Councilwoman Karen Hiller says were the city’s three objectives.

Which is why in August, the City laid out a plan to take over Heartland Park and expand its bonds. The city already has $10 million in unpaid bonds, but if the track goes under…the city must pay.

In a 7-3 vote, the city council approved buying even more bonds. Something that in August, the council saw as a solution to their looming debt.
“That win, win, win was not to lose the track and not have it go dark,” says Hiller.

However, they decided to have a pre-vote at Tuesday night’s meeting, something Hiller say’s they’ve never done in her six years on the council.

Though they’ll vote again next week, the City Finance Director made it clear that by that time, if a council member wanted to change their vote…it would be too late.

“Once the star bonds are let, we are committed,” said Hiller.

Now the deadline is February 1 to close the deal on buying the race track. If the city doesn’t have everything approved at that time, the agreement with the current park owner becomes invalid, meaning the city would then have $15 million in unpaid bonds.

“The deal is contingent on us being able to deliver that property to a new owner and or managing partner, free and clear. So those things have to happen for it legally to be untangled and those STAR bonds to be covered. ”

One uncertainty that remains is whether the Heartland Park petition asking for a public vote, will be granted an appeal. The council members met privately to discuss the legal ramifications if that occurred, but did not disclose them.

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