Wichita River Festival consolidates, moves storage into one facility

WICHITA — Ever since Wichita Festivals gave up its longtime Wichita River Festival command center and storage facility to make way for AVI Seabar & Chophouse, it has used a couple of different places for storage.

“We have been guests of the Drury and their parking garage,” says Festivals president and CEO Mary Beth Jarvis.

Festivals also has been using the former Michaels building on East Kellogg. That building is slated to be razed next year, which is necessitating new storage space.

“We have been looking around for a new home for our odd collection of stuff,” Jarvis says.

That includes such things as signs, fencing and ticket booths.

Now, Jarvis says, “the wonderful folks at PEC” are donating part of the former Chilton Billiards space at 300 S. Topeka, which Professional Engineering Consultants owns, for Festivals to use.

“They are going to allow Wichita Festivals to park our stuff there,” Jarvis says.

PEC is still looking for someone to lease the 30,000-square-foot building. If a prospective tenant needs the entire space, “then we would have to gracefully yield,” Jarvis says. “Our goal will be to co-exist.”

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Ben Arnold behind on taxes but says it’s not nearly as much as the IRS claims he owes

WICHITA — After taking care of some tax trouble he had with Corporate Caterers of Wichita a few years back, Ben Arnold hoped to never be behind again. He is, though, and he’s as forthright as ever about it.

“I do owe taxes,” Arnold says. However, he says he doesn’t owe anywhere close to the approximately $250,000 the IRS says he owes.

“If I did, I would be in Mexico right now. That would just be an obnoxious amount you would have to owe for a period that covers 12 months.”

Arnold believes he owes only about a third of what the government says he owes. The issue, he says, is the IRS says it didn’t receive documentation from him.

“They assess a tax if they don’t have documentation in front of them,” he says.

Arnold says his accountant had sent proper documents and that he personally has now sent them a second time.

“That’s why I’m really, really frustrated.”

Arnold rapidly expanded his BLA Enterprises with catering at Comotara Center and two corporate cafes, Cafe 151 at Cargill and Cafe Intrust at Intrust Bank. He also owns AVI Seabar & Chophouse, which he opened late last year in the Drury Plaza Hotel Broadview.

“When I started this expansion, most of (the businesses) worked. A couple did not,” Arnold says. “We hit a very large pothole, and we’re filling it in.”

The largest pothole is AVI.

Arnold says in AVI’s first two months of business in 2011, it lost $75,000.

He says it was like “if you just popped a balloon, everything fell out.”

By August, Arnold says losses were down to $1,900.

He says September and October were profitable, and he believes AVI can be an almost $1 million-a-year business.

“We’ve grown to like it.”

Arnold says he now owes less than $16,000 on the business’ taxes.

He says another issue is the unprofitable banquet facilities he has in 9,000 square feet at Comotara.

“That’s one part of the business I’ve got to do something with. … I love my location, and I don’t want to leave it.”

Arnold says his catering is doing well and is on track to gross between $3.2 million and $3.3 million this year.

He says the cafes also “are extremely healthy.”

Arnold says it’s a “long, drawn-out process” getting tax discrepancies corrected, and while he’s frustrated, he’s not fazed despite the fact that he and his wife have used personal savings to cover some debt and have paid themselves almost nothing throughout the year.

“No one plans to fail,” Arnold says. “Any small business has struggles. You do what you’re supposed to do. … I don’t see this as a huge obstacle for me to overcome.”

Corporate Caterers of Wichita to do catering at Courtyard by Marriott in Old Town

WICHITA — Ben Arnold and his Corporate Caterers of Wichita have taken over catering at the Courtyard by Marriott in Old Town.

Larkspur previously handled it.

This makes Arnold’s sixth either exclusive or preferred catering deal at area hotels and McConnell Air Force Base.

“It’s very similar to what we’re doing at the Drury,” Arnold says.

There isn’t a restaurant, though, like the struggling AVI Seabar & Chophouse at the Drury.

“Oh, no, no,” Arnold says. The Marriott deal is strictly for catering. Or, as Arnold puts it, “The money side of it.”

AVI Seabar & Chophouse at Drury Plaza Hotel Broadview struggles to break even

UPDATED — The new AVI Seabar & Chophouse at the Drury Plaza Hotel Broadview is not doing well.

Or, as owner Ben Arnold more descriptively puts it, the restaurant is “like a turtle on a Texas highway on his back in the middle of summer.”

In the first six months of business, he’s lost about $225,000.

“I put higher expectations on the restaurant initially because I got wrapped up in the media hype,” Arnold says. “There was so much chatter … for months and months and months surrounding the hotel.”

Banquets and catering at the hotel are doing well, though.

“It’s a package deal,” Arnold says.

He’s laid off five salaried workers in catering and at the restaurant, including Chef Adam Courtney. He also laid off three hourly workers at AVI. Some changes to the menu are coming in the next few weeks as well.

“The restaurant was losing so much money, it was dragging the entire company down, and that’s why I’m making the changes I’m making,” Arnold says. “We were robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

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