U.S. Postal Service to open call center in space the state is negotiating for

UPDATED — There’s another twist on the possible Department for Children and Families lease at 2601 S. Oliver, which has been a remote encoding center for the U.S. Postal Service.

The postal service is winding down those operations – its lease expires in September 2015 – but now it’s planning a call center for the space.

“The U.S. Postal Service has completed its posting process and is now training the first group of hires for the new Customer Care Center that will go on line in Wichita, KS in July 2014,” postal spokesman Brian Sperry said in an e-mail statement.

The postal service is still in this building at 2601 S. Oliver, and the state is still negotiating to move in, but it’s unclear what will happen with the space.

The postal service is still in this building at 2601 S. Oliver, and the state is still negotiating to move in, but it’s unclear what will happen with the space.

The center, which will be one of four the postal service has nationally, will answer customers’ inquiries via phone and e-mail.

The remote encoding center has been at the space for two decades. At one time there were more than 1,000 employees there. Now, there are 251 career employees left, meaning employees who are guaranteed jobs.

“Through a memorandum of understanding with union representatives, 251 jobs were posted through a senior bidding process with all Remote Encoding Center employees eligible to submit for the available positions and no external recruitment was conducted,” Sperry wrote. “The newest Customer Care Center will operate out of the former Remote Encoding Center site.”

Sperry wouldn’t say if the postal service is trying to renegotiate for a longer lease or if it’s looking for a possible new site for the call center.

“The statement is all we have to report.”

Jan Manlove, the secretary and treasurer of the American Postal Workers Union Area Local 735, says the union’s “business agent had been working long and hard to get a call center.”

She says on the same day the postal service signed the call center agreement, it measured space at Hutchinson and Ponca City post offices to see if the call center could locate at either one.

“Our union, No. 1, wants to keep the jobs here in Wichita,” Manlove says.

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You don’t say

“You’re going to get me killed by Lavonta.”

– Mayor Carl Brewer’s response when asked about his joke that the East 13th Street roadwork in City Council member Lavonta Williams’ district likely would be done before the Kellogg expansion

You don’t say

“I don’t normally spend this much time having a conversation with you because I know it doesn’t do any good.”

– Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer to conservative blogger Bob Weeks as the two argued over cronyism during Tuesday’s City Council meeting

“I really wasn’t offended today … because the mayor’s been ruder to better people than me.”

– Weeks’ response when asked about the exchange after the meeting

Three state agencies close to signing new downtown leases despite city’s objections

The former Ryan International Airlines building.

UPDATED — Three state agencies, including two that currently are in the Finney State Office Building, are close to finalizing leases for the former Ryan International Airlines building at 266 N. Main.

The Joint Committee on State Building Construction will consider leases for the Kansas Corporation Commission and the Kansas Human Rights Commission next month and the state Board of Indigents’ Defense Services on Wednesday.

“To my great surprise and chagrin, this committee has no authority to stop this process other than the bully pulpit,” says state Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, a new member of the committee. “We can raise questions about the appropriateness of the move … and hopefully shame them into doing the right thing.”

Ward says the reasons the state has offered for why nine agencies need to leave the Finney building, a city-owned property at 230 E. William, “don’t seem to hold water compared to the bid given by the city.”

He’s referring to a new lease rate the city is offering to the state to keep the Department for Children and Families at the Finney building. DCF has more than 550 of the 700 state employees at the building.

According to a Sept. 9 letter Mayor Carl Brewer sent to Gov. Sam Brownback, the city would slash DCF’s lease rate from $11 a square foot to $6 a square foot for half the space it currently has. The reduced space is at DCF’s request, according to the letter. The city also offered to make a $6 million investment in improvements in the building.

“It is my hope, as mayor of Wichita, that the valuable relationship between the City and State can be preserved by a responsible business decision allowing the continued use of the Finney State Office Building as a centralized location for state agencies,” Brewer wrote.

Chuck Knapp, spokesman for the state Department of Administration, says it’s a “foregone conclusion” that DCF and the Kansas Corporation Commission will be leaving, because the Finney building does not meet their needs.

“Someone could offer you a cardboard box for free, and if it didn’t meet your housing needs, you … wouldn’t accept it,” Knapp says. “I’m certainly not saying the Finney building is a cardboard box. … Price isn’t necessarily the determining factor in the deal.”

In his letter, Brewer referenced a July meeting he had with Brownback after which a new conversation started with DCF about how the city could meet the department’s needs.

“However, despite our best efforts, we encountered obstacles that prevented a full evaluation of our counterproposal,” he wrote.

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You don’t say

“I may be persuaded to return to work on the family farm in Oklahoma if I can get my uncle to buy one of these things.”

– Mayor Carl Brewer’s comment Wednesday at the grand opening of a new Straub International facility in west Wichita, where a $450,000 piece of equipment was parked in the background

Mayor and governor meet about Finney State Office Building; state may be zeroing in on new DCF space

WICHITA — The state appears to be zeroing in on new space for the Department for Children and Families near East 47th Street South and South Oliver, even as Mayor Carl Brewer is working to try to keep the office where it is.

“I have been digging into this, and I have heard from reliable folks that the state is looking at (that building),” said Rep. Jim Ward (D-Wichita), who has been critical of a possible move.

Brewer went to Topeka on Wednesday to visit with Gov. Sam Brownback about keeping DCF and other state agencies in the Finney State Office Building at 230 E. William.

Last month, Have You Heard? reported that the state of Kansas has notified the city of Wichita that its nine agencies that occupy the downtown building won’t be renewing their leases after 20 years in the city-owned space. That means more than 700 people will be moving, more than 550 of whom are with DCF.

According to Loopnet, an online commercial real estate site, there’s a two-story, 100,000-square-foot former Bank of America call center that’s available near the southwest corner of the intersection, and it looks like that’s what the state could be interested in.

“I hope that that’s not true,” Ward said. “I don’t think that’s a good spot. … I don’t think that’s a good location for those kinds of services.”

One of his concerns is that Jezebel’s, an adult club, is across the street.

“It’s not unusual for kids to be part of their parents’ dealing with the state,” Ward said.

He also wonders how accessible the site would be compared to the more centralized Finney building.

Brewer didn’t return calls for comment. A representative of the governor’s office confirmed the meeting but wouldn’t say anything more.

“I know that the governor and Mayor Brewer did in fact meet this morning,” said spokeswoman Sara Belfry. “I believe they talked about a couple of things, including the Wichita office building.”

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Mayor Carl Brewer gets a new car along with some unwanted law enforcement attention

WICHITA — Car shopping can be a frustrating experience, but it’s generally not so bad that the police are called.

That’s what happened recently to Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer, though.

It’s a reluctant Brewer who discusses the incident, which happened at Parks Motors in Augusta recently.

“It’s already embarrassing enough for this company,” Brewer says. “They have just apologized and apologized and apologized.”

The mayor has been looking for a new car since his Dodge Magnum was totaled in a recent storm. On the night of June 20, Brewer says he was shopping at some Wichita dealerships when he decided to drive to Parks Motors where he was scheduled to do a ribbon cutting a couple of days later.

Brewer, who was dressed in casual clothes and not his traditional work suit, snapped pictures of cars on the lot so he could then go home and check them out online. It was about 11 p.m.

As he was leaving, Brewer saw someone in a pickup truck at the other end of the lot. That person, who was associated with the dealership, had already seen him and made a call.

“Next thing I know … I see the lights and the sheriff’s officer’s there,” Brewer says. A second deputy then arrived in another vehicle, he says.

A deputy asked for his identification.

“She told me that I looked familiar … and she asked me about where did I work,” Brewer says. “I told her for the city of Wichita.”

The deputy continued to press him about his employment. Brewer says he was reluctant to say.

“I wasn’t there as the mayor,” he says. Brewer says, though, he “finally just went ahead and told her.”

He says the deputy then remembered she’d heard him speak at a diversity panel for one of her Wichita State University classes.

“It was funny to me,” Brewer says. “I wasn’t too concerned about it.”

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Doc Howard’s Lounge is losing its lease, but the rest of the situation is unclear

UPDATED – Doc Howard’s Lounge is losing its Old Town lease at 252 N. Mosley.

That much is clear, but not much else is.

When initially contacted about the situation on March 5, owner Bryan Shapiro said he no longer owns the business and referred calls to the new owner, which he said is his brother, Keith, who couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

Early afternoon on March 6, building owner Dave Burk said the Doc Howard’s lease is expiring at the end of the month and that he chose not to allow the business to renew it.

The bar has been a lightning rod for critics due to violence and other issues in and around it.

It sounds like there’s a chance the business is reopening elsewhere in Old Town, but Bryan Shapiro said he didn’t have any information about it.

Burk said he’s still considering what to do with the 26,000 square feet Doc Howard’s is leaving.

“Well, I can’t tell you for sure what I’m going to do with it. I’ve got some ideas,” he said. “I just know what I’m not going to do with it.”

That means, Burk says, the space “isn’t going to be a large bar with a lot of capacity.”

He says it’s possible the area could be divided.

“It’s something I’m looking at.”

Keith Shapiro called later to say he’s not the owner of the business. He wouldn’t say what his role is.

“I can’t tell you anything other than we have other plans for this building with Dave Burk,” Keith Shapiro said. “We’re reconcepting and doing something different with this whole building itself.”

He further said, “There is nothing happening with the business. We are doing other things.”

In a follow-up call with Bryan Shapiro, he said he forgot that he is the owner of the business.

“I’m just mentally retarded,” he said. “We got a lot going on.”

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You don’t say

“I need him to narrow that down. Maybe cut a couple of more hours.”

– Mayor Carl Brewer on the success of downtown development, which he says causes Wichita Downtown Development Corp. president Jeff Fluhr to get only about five hours of sleep most nights

Costco has a top pick for Wichita property

WICHITA — Costco has identified a top pick for property to open its first store in Wichita, but no one with the cost-cutting competitor to Sam’s Club is talking yet.

Sources says the Issaquah, Wash.-based Costco is interested in the northeast corner of Kellogg and Webb Road, which is Hawker Beechcraft property.

“We do not have any information or comments to provide at this time,” Hawker spokeswoman Nicole Alexander said in an e-mail.

Hawker’s bankruptcy doesn’t appearing to be hurting a potential Costco deal, although it sounds like it may be slowing things.

In April, Have You Heard? reported that Costco was once again seriously eyeing Wichita – as it had several years ago before a deal fell apart.

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