State gives city of Wichita notice that nine agencies and more than 700 employees are leaving the Finney State Office Building

WICHITA — The state of Kansas has notified the city of Wichita that its nine agencies that occupy the Finney State Office Building downtown won’t be renewing their leases after 20 years in the city-owned building.

“It raises a red flag,” says Rep. Jim Ward (D-Wichita). “I have a concern there is a history of the governor rewarding financial contributors with state contracts. I know he has contributors in Wichita that own (buildings) that fall into that category. … I don’t want that to be the reason we’re moving.”

Sherriene Jones-Sontag, a spokeswoman for the governor’s office, says Ward’s fears are unfounded.

“For Representative Ward to say that, what he said was inaccurate,” she says.

There are more than 700 state employees in the building, more than 550 of whom are with the state Department for Children and Families, which formerly was known as SRS. The other eight agencies are the Department for Aging and Disability Services, the Department of Revenue, the Kansas Human Rights Commission, the Department of Health and Environment, the Department of Administration, the Kansas Corporation Commission, the Office of the State Bank Commissioner and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.

“We consulted with our agency tenants,” says Chuck Knapp, a spokesman with the Department of Administration. “After visiting with those agencies, we just determined it would be in the best interest of those agencies and their clients to seek space elsewhere.”

Knapp says he can’t be more specific and that each agency will have to answer for itself.

A spokeswoman for the largest tenant couldn’t be reached for comment. A spokesman for another agency referred questions to Knapp.

“I would like them to be able to articulate why this is a good idea, and I haven’t heard any of that,” Ward says.

He says his other major concern is a move from the building will hurt the clients who use it.

Ward was a Wichita City Council member in 1991 when the city was investigating ways to stimulate economic development downtown and proposed a plan to help the state reduce expenses by consolidating numerous offices into the vacant building at 230 E. William, which previously was home to Macy’s. The following year, he was in the state Senate “where we in fact accepted the city’s offer to do that.”

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Ajax International Group files Chapter 11; Some Taco Tico restaurants to reopen

WICHITA — Ajax International Group filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy on March 8, which should allow a number of Taco Ticos to reopen around Wichita and possibly in a few other areas.

The state seized the assets of Ajax, which owns Taco Tico, and closed 10 of the restaurants in Wichita, Derby, Dodge City, Arkansas City and Topeka on Monday for failure to pay almost $435,000 in taxes.

“We have been in discussion with the Department of Revenue, and we have reached an agreement that will allow for (the Taco Ticos) to reopen,” says Bill Zimmerman, who is owner Mohmood Karim’s attorney.

Zimmerman says Karim may be back in the buildings as early as today.

“Physically, how soon the stores can be up and running, I don’t know,” he says.

Zimmerman says part of the company’s problem in getting behind on taxes and other bills was underperforming stores.

“They had some stores that simply weren’t making money,” he says. “Not all the stores will reopen, I know that. … But I don’t know which ones specifically yet.”

Zimmerman says the company owes some suppliers money as well but that taxes are the main issue for Ajax and Karim.

“They’re hopeful that they can make money with the stores that stay open … and pay the debts under the reorganization.”