Costco may be close to a Wichita deal

WICHITA — Wichita, you just may get your wish for a Costco — maybe even relatively soon — though how close the company is to a deal depends on who you talk to.

The Issaquah, Wash.-based chain, which sells bulk items similar to Sam’s Club stores, has been eyeing Wichita again.

“I came to the market to look at the market on a macro basis,” says co-founder and executive chairman Jeff Brotman. “I didn’t like anything I saw.”

Brotman says that “without disclosing our deepest, darkest secrets,” he can say that the locations he looked at didn’t fit with the way the market moves, meaning its natural trade areas.

“I have a mild interest,” Brotman says. “I’m interested in everything, right? . . . It’s just hard to focus on things that aren’t burning priorities.”

That’s not how others tell it. According to them, Costco is close enough to a deal that a 2013 opening isn’t out of the question.

Even Brotman says, “Let’s just assume it was true: I wouldn’t tell you about it. Even after we get a property under control, we don’t talk about it until after we have permits.”

In summer 2010, The Eagle conducted a poll of what businesses Wichitans would like to have in the city.

Costco narrowly lost the top choice to Cheesecake Factory.

“I was a little disappointed that we came in second,” Costco co-founder and then-CEO Jim Sinegal joked at the time. “I’ve got to be prepared to deal with these little disappointments in life.”

Costco has previously been close to at least one other deal here, and Sinegal said a finalized deal is simply a matter of the company giving Wichita some attention.

“Meaning . . . we get off our butts and go take a look,” he said. “At any point and time, we probably have 100 different sites we’re looking at.”

Sources say several sites have been under consideration over the last six months or so.

“Yes, I have been contacted by Costco,” says Max Cole, whose family owns more than two acres next to Towne East Square.

“They’ve got lots of hurdles to overcome,” Cole says of locating there.

That includes buying two freestanding restaurants – Carlos O’Kelly’s and Asian Super Buffet.

Jon Rolph, president of Sasnak Management, which owns Carlos O’Kelly’s, says he’s been hearing the Costco rumors since 2003 when the restaurant opened there.

“We’ve never been contacted by anyone from Costco about our property in particular,” Rolph says.

He’s recently renewed the restaurant’s lease there.

Major tenants at Towne East also would have to approve the Costco deal. That’s Simon Property Group land, and Costco would need that property in addition to Cole’s land.

“If they overcome the hurdles, I’ll play,” Cole says. “My understanding is that that’s where they want to go. There’s other people all over the place trying to get them to go.”

That includes property around 21st and Greenwich and K-96 and Greenwich, where developers are lobbying hard for the chain.

None of those areas is necessarily where the company will locate. In fact, it sounds like there could be another spot altogether. The east side is the likely choice.

Cole says that when Costco looked at land of his several years ago, it planned a 110,000-square-foot store. It’s not clear what size store the company is considering now, though Cole speculates it likely would be about that size.

More information likely is coming in the next few months. Of course, the company has been close before and, assuming it’s even close to a deal now, it could back out again.

Regardless, Brotman gives hope.

“It’s a market I’m sure we’ll be in at some point and time. I just don’t know when.”