Tenants at former Commerce Bank building are scrambling for new office space

WICHITA — Tenants at the former Commerce Bank building at First and Main downtown are scrambling to find new space.

“Monday, the gas was shut off in the building,” says Kevin Berube, who has run the Snack Attack deli in the building for 27 years.

“One elevator still works part of the time, but it’s no way to operate,” he says. “It’s very hard on everyone.”

The 10-story building is not quite a third occupied with about 10 tenants, the largest of which is the Workforce Alliance of South Central Kansas.

“We don’t want to move,” says Keith Lawing, Alliance president and CEO. “It’s just untenable, though.”

Building owner Joe Moosally didn’t return two calls for comment on Wednesday.

“The building has just not been maintained,” Lawing says. “It’s that Minnesota boys hangover.”

The Real Development developers out of Minnesota once owned the building. Moosally, also out of Minnesota, had ties to the other developers but was not part of that company.

Delton Sandefer of Essential Property Management managed the building until the beginning of October.

“We were just trying to help him keep the building afloat,” he says. “I was managing the building for a little while and quit managing … because of lack of funds with the owners.”

Sandefer says Moosally was working on a deal to sell the building, but it apparently fell through.

He says when Moosally took back the property, he attempted to pay past bills associated with it.

“It was just overwhelming for Joe,” Sandefer says. “He didn’t realize that nothing had been paid for five months.”

Sandefer says Moosally wanted him to let tenants know they’d need to find other office space.

“He wanted me to tell everybody but try and keep it quiet,” he says. “I told him that I wasn’t going to tell anybody – that he needed to put that in writing and let everybody know himself.”

State Department of Administration spokesman Chuck Knapp says there are employees with the Kansas Department of Commerce in the building along with the state Board of Indigents’ Defense Services.

“Late this morning or early this afternoon we got an urgent plea for assistance,” Knapp says, referring to the board.

He says the board will take about 2,300 square feet of vacant space on a temporary basis at the Finney State Office Building downtown.

Knapp says the Department of Commerce called as well and is looking for a new building.

Sandefer says he gave tenants a letter offering to help them find new space.

“I’d like to help them out in this time of crisis if I could.”

He says some other downtown building managers are doing the same.

“We’re friendly enough we share that stuff,” Sandefer says. “We’re just trying to find places for the tenants to go.”

Lawing says it may take a few months to find permanent new space.

For now, he’ll settle for temporary space. Lawing says he’d like to have somewhere else to go “by tomorrow.”