Former Ryan International Airlines and Southwestern Bell building sells downtown

WICHITA — It’s not every day that a bunker sells downtown, but that’s what Craig Simon says happened today.

The former Ryan International Airlines building at 266 N. Main St., which was built for Southwestern Bell in the late 1960s, sold.

“It’s a very unique building,” says Simon, a broker with Landmark Commercial Real Estate who handled the sale. “It’s like a bunker.”

The approximately 54,000-square-foot building has 14-inch walls and can withstand 200-mile-an-hour winds. Though it’s only two stories, it is built to hold six.

“If there’s a storm, there’s no breakage in coverage,” Simon says.

He says it’s a data company’s dream, and there are two such companies – Level 3 Communications and Hubris Communications – in there now.

A contractor and some other investors are the ones who bought it, though.

Tom Schmeidler of SBA Construction, his brothers and another investor purchased the property out of foreclosure.

“It has potential to become a very, very good building again,” Schmeidler says. “It’s in the best part of downtown that you could hope for for an office building.”

When Rubloff Jet Express purchased Ryan in 2004, it acquired the building.

“They’re not usually in the business of buying office buildings,” Simon says.

Rubloff hired Simon about two years ago to help lease the building. Simon says he was close to signing the Department of Defense and the Small Business Administration last summer when Rubloff, which owns a number of shopping centers, encountered financial difficulties.

“They were struggling with a lot of properties,” Simon says.

Though the building had gone into receivership and Simon wasn’t able to lease to new tenants, he was able to help sell the building.

Complicating the deal was an IRB that Ryan had through the city. It was set to expire next year. The city still had a deed on the building as collateral but agreed to retire the IRB early.

Simon will continue handling leasing at the building, and Landmark will manage it as well.

“There’s a lot of interest right now,” Simon says of about four serious prospects.

After Ryan left, Rubloff gutted its 27,000-square-foot second-story space.

“It’s just totally blank up there, which is very attractive to federal government leases,” Simon says. “It has great potential.”

John Paladino, an account director with Level 3 Communications, says the company has been there almost 14 years.

Level 3 sells Internet and local phone services and enhanced data services.

“Our objective is to make our infrastructure that we sell to customers as protected as possible,” he says. “It’s been a great building.”

Paladino says a typical building’s walls and ceilings have a width more like 6 or 8 inches compared to his building’s 14 inches.

“It makes it tornado-proof and can sustain over 200-mile-per-hour winds,” he says, “… which makes us very valuable in the market.”

There’s also an underground garage at the property. That’s where Southwestern Bell coin trucks used to gather following pick-ups at telephone booths around the city. It was a secure environment to count the money, Paladino says.

“It’s got that kind of history to it, which is kind of interesting,” Simon says. “It’s a great building.”