Category Archives: Development

A slowdown near the arena?

It’s admittedly early, but development interest near the Intrust Bank Arena appears off to a slow start.

Tuesday’s announcement that the Spaghetti Works building near Douglas and St. Francis is for sale makes two significant multi-level buildings near the arena that need buyers. Union Station, the old Cox Communications headquarters on Douglas, has been on the market for several months, reportedly with limited interest from retailers.

On the surface, that’s surprising as the arena quickly takes shape nearby. But with the financial markets in crisis and disposable incomes dwindling to nothing, a slowdown in hospitality investments doesn’t seem all that shocking.

Plus, arena neighborhoods, I’m told, develop closer to the opening date. Hard to get a lot done, though, when the city and the downtown development group both need new leaders.

So, there’s no cause for alarm yet – but it does seem troubling that the future of two prime arena neighborhood properties is in such doubt.

On the city manager re-search, Broadview

Have I got a suggestion for the Wichita City Council as they revive their search for a new city manager: Gene Stephenson. If anyone knows about the perils of cold feet, it’s Gene.

Carl Brewer, my number’s at the bottom of two stories on today’s business page. Or maybe there’s a reason I’m not on the city manager search committee …

Anyway, heard a brief discussion on the radio this morning that interested me. A caller was irate over the city’s willingness to loan Bill Warren money while at the same time being unwilling to give several million dollars to the proposed Broadview Hotel deal.

It’s criticism that seems to keep popping up. Still not sure I understand the logic behind it, with gifts and loans being different animals.

So explain it to me. If you’ve got an opinion, why was the proposed Broadview handout a better deal than the Old Town Warren loan?

More arena performances for Wichita?

There’s an interesting benefit coming for Wichita from the relocation of the Seattle Supersonics to Oklahoma City.

The Sonics will chew up 41 previously uncommitted dates at the Ford Center, Oklahoma City’s soon-to-be-renovated arena.

What that means to Wichita is this: SMG, a Philadelphia-based arena manager, manages both arenas. Entertainment events that would have played the Ford sans NBA basketball, said SMG spokeswoman Beth King, are now leading candidates to land in Wichita.

Sonics nearing OKC move?

UPDATE: The Seattle Times is reporting a settlement has been reached.

The city of Seattle and the Oklahoma City-based owners of the Seattle Supersonics are in settlement talks this afternoon, just hours before a judge is expected to rule whether the club can buy its way out of its lease and move immediately to Oklahoma City.

This has interesting, but admittedly fringe, implications for Wichita. Downtown arena developers have touted the potential pre-season NBA link with an Oklahoma City franchise, and have even raised the possibility of landing a regular season game up here.

Regular season NBA basketball in Wichita sounds like a pipe dream to me, but any kind of partnership with a pro sports franchise can only be good news for the oft- and unjustly-criticized downtown arena.

Arena parking will be fine

Arena parking seems to come up darn near every time the word “downtown” is mentioned in anything. That’s the case in a comment attached to Bill Wilson’s post from yesterday.

I read comments all the time where people say there won’t be enough parking, that people will have to walk too far, that we need a parking garage, that people will stay away from Intrust Bank Arena. And I say “Huh?”

Not enough parking? There is plenty of parking within six blocks or so for just about everything that will be held at the arena.

People will have to walk too far? If you’ve ever been to an arena or stadium event in another city, walking is the norm. Even at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, I imagine you walk farther from the far reaches of the parking lot than you ever will have to here. I know there are some people who can’t walk that far — and there is a big difference in my mind between can’t and don’t want to — but I trust there will be enough close spots for them.

We need a parking garage? This is the worst argument of all. The last thing we need is a parking garage. First of all, leaving one after an event is worse than trying to get through the security line at the airport. Second, it defeats one of the primary purposes of having an arena downtown, which is to get people into the restaurants and shops.

People will stay away? My guess is those people wouldn’t have gone in the first place. Just a guess.

Let me know how you feel.

Should the city incentivize downtown redevelopment?

I noted with some interest Sunday a line in Brent Wistrom’s piece about the Warren Old Town $6 million loan: “This is the first time Wichita has considered loaning taxpayer money to a business, finance officials and other observers say.”

I’ve got to take issue with that one: Anyone remember the Minnesota Guys? How about CORE?

The debate over whether the Wichita City Council should financially partner with downtown developers is a legitimate one. But again, I wonder why it’s just now surfacing when the city clearly has bought into other projects in the past. Admittedly, the terms of the city’s partnership with Warren are a little different, but beyond that …

And from where I sit, I don’t recall developers lining up to buy Wichita buildings and do downtown projects on their own. Cities partner with developers all the time, and a partnership with Bill Warren looks to me to be consistent with past precedent.

Oil taking toll on Wichita’s housing market

In Saturday’s Eagle, Plaza Real Estate President John McKenzie – who is one of the straightest shooters in Wichita’s residential market – is going to tie Wichita’s increasingly soft home sales numbers to the price of oil.

Existing and new home sales in April were at four-year monthly lows – despite a relatively steady inventory of homes for sale and some strength in certain market sectors.

It’s an interesting correlation, to be certain: Potential homebuyers and sellers confronted with rising energy costs, food costs and the trickle-down bad news that oil prices bring are becoming so nervous about their economic situations that they’re leaving the housing market.

The statistics seem to back him up. Perception does indeed appear to be reality. And if you’re looking for a rebound, McKenzie doesn’t think one is coming until Congress cracks down on oil speculators.

It’s Wednesday afternoon …

And still no signed contract from AHG Group, a Florida development company, to buy Wild West World. Five days remain for the Floridians to close on the $2.15 million deal, or the option returns to Amusement Holdings, a group of Wichita investors who bid $2 million for the park last week.

Kinda interesting how a bid in U.S. Bankruptcy Court seems to give way to ongoing negotiations, isn’t it?

Stay tuned on for the latest.

Is downtown development a priority?

The letters to the editor continue to roll in, bemoaning the Wichita City Council’s decision to loan Bill Warren $6 million to remake the Old Town Warren Theatre money pit. And I continue to wonder what the writers are missing.

The council’s willingness to throw in financially with downtown developers isn’t new, so the Warren support should surprise no one.

There’s a good chunk of city money behind the Minnesota Guys downtown. There’s the downtown Hyatt. There’s independent league baseball and the National Baseball Congress.

And if you want to roll the clock back almost six years, there’s $36 million in tax increment financing tied up in WaterWalk. That’s spending on an area that likely would be bustling today, save the decision of former mayor Carlos Mayans and an earlier council to yank money away. That’s a decision some believe cost WaterWalk a Bass Pro Shop, one of those coveted anchor tenants that brings a boatload of business with it to any development.

The debate on the city’s financial involvement in the Warren isn’t surprising, but the complainers seem a little late to the party. Personally, I wonder what, if anything, would be taking place downtown if the city wasn’t involved.

It’s Friday afternoon …

Do you know where a contract signed by AHG Group is for Wild West World?

It’s certainly not been filed with U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Wichita, and sources close to the case are quiet. It’s a bit of a contrast with the confidence voiced after Wednesday’s auction that the deal would quickly fall together.

Stay tuned for further developments.

In pursuit of a Wild West World buyer

After further review, Wednesday’s bombshell announcement from a Florida gaming group that they’d like to reopen Wild West World isn’t quite so shocking – in context.

But if the Wild West World story teaches us anything, it’s not to count our overpriced stale corn dogs before they’re fried to the consistency of the asphalt under our feet.

It’s pretty clear, I think, that Alan Ginsburg’s AHG Group agreed to buy the park Wednesday with an eye toward gaming, and a willingness to put a bunch of entertainment pieces like an amusement park in place while gambling winds its way through the local political maze. So maybe one can conclude that Wichita isn’t an entertainment loser.

Or maybe not.

The sale contract hasn’t been filed and signed with U.S. Bankruptcy Court, as of this writing. That’s because the deal Thomas Etheredge assembled is a complicated mess, thanks to the one thing he did consistently as he built the park – look for the cheapest route possible. It’s not easy to sell a parking lot to a savvy real estate buyer on “payments only” terms.

No real reason to doubt Ginsburg’s interest. But don’t put all your chips on the Floridians quite yet. This deal isn’t going to be over until the final buzzer.

Wichita a loser in Wild West World loss

When U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert Nugent awards Wild West World to a lucky (?) bidder tomorrow morning, there will be a lot of losers: Thomas Etheredge, whose financial activities remain under investigation by state and federal authorities; investors; season ticket holders; vendors; builders.

But maybe none bigger than the Wichita area itself.

If there’s been one constant during the Wild West World saga, it’s the area’s deep and abiding affection for Joyland, the historic theme park whose day sadly has passed. That affection was a market for amusement park entertainment that could have easily been tapped by a good businessman.

But there’s no room here for ego trumping a good business plan, and Thomas Etheredge’s decision to put sound and fury ahead of good business makes losers of us all.

Wild West World’s high profile failure has poisoned the amusement park brand in Wichita. And with a Tulsa amusement park group looking less and less likely as the buyer – although I’ve been buried in this story long enough to know that it’s never over until it’s over – it could be a long time before another fun park comes down the pike.

Too bad.