Building committee meeting canceled, but not before DCF lease details get distributed

UPDATED — A meeting of the Joint Committee on State Building Construction was canceled at the last minute Tuesday, but not before a sheet detailing a Department for Children and Families move was distributed.

“This is appalling,” Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita and a committee member, says of the lease numbers he saw on the sheet.

Nine state agencies, including more than 700 employees, are leaving the city-owned Finney State Office Building. More than 550 of those employees are with the DCF.

In February, Have You Heard? reported that the DCF was close to signing a deal for space that the U.S. Postal Service is vacating at 2601 S. Oliver. A story last week detailed how the possible lease wasn’t as close to being finalized as some had thought.

“It’s our intention to move into the postal service building,” DCF spokeswoman Theresa Freed says. “The plan’s not finalized, so as I mentioned before, we can’t discuss the details of the pending contract.”

She does say, though, that the DCF is negotiating to remain in the Finney building an extra nine months after its lease expires at the end of September.

“We’ve been very appreciative of the cooperation between our staff and the city of Wichita to make that happen,” Freed says.

Ward is not appreciative of any part of the deal.

“They totally ignored the people of Wichita,” he says of the “number of voices from Wichita that said this move doesn’t make any sense.”

Read More »

Possible DCF lease on South Oliver may not be ‘at the goal line’

The U.S. Postal Service is vacating this building at 2601 S. Oliver, but whether the state Department for Children and Families moves in isn't as certain as it once was.

The U.S. Postal Service is vacating this building at 2601 S. Oliver, but whether the state Department for Children and Families moves in isn’t as certain as it once was.

UPDATED — In February, a state official told Have You Heard? that the Department for Children and Families was “at the goal line” for signing a deal for space that the U.S. Postal Service is vacating at 2601 S. Oliver.

Apparently, though, someone has moved the goal line. The players in the lineup may have changed, too.

“We’re still exploring all of our options and haven’t made a final determination on that yet,” says Theresa Freed, a DCF spokeswoman. “That is one of the options that we’re considering.”

That sounds a lot less certain than when Mark McGivern, director of the Office of Facilities and Procurement Management within the state Department of Administration, used the goal line analogy.

Does that mean the postal deal is less likely than it had been?

“I wouldn’t say that it is any more or less likely,” Freed says. “As a department, we don’t discuss contracts until they are finalized.”

In June, Have You Heard? reported that nine state agencies, including more than 700 employees, will leave the Finney building when the state’s lease expires on Sept. 30. More than 550 of those employees are with DCF.

The city presented the state with what a state spokesman called “a very aggressive lease renewal offer” last summer, but the spokesman said DCF has needs the Finney building can’t fulfill.

State Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, has voiced concerns from the beginning regarding DCF and other agencies vacating the Finney building. He wonders what the holdup is now.

“That’s another concern in an ongoing series of concerns about how … good of a decision the move is in total,” he says.

Read More »

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.

Read More »

Property owner Jeff Greenberg confirms state is considering leasing his building

WICHITA — Property owner and Wichita broker Jeff Greenberg confirms the state is considering leasing his 100,000-square-foot building near East 47th Street South and South Oliver, but he says the potential deal has nothing to do with a payback for supporting the governor or anyone else.

“It’s not political,” he says.

Since Have You Heard? reported that the state of Kansas has notified the city of Wichita that it’s leaving the Finney State Office Building downtown, Rep. Jim Ward (D-Wichita) has raised concerns that the search for new space might be politically motivated. He says he’s also worried that clients – particularly at the Department for Children and Families – won’t have easy access to services if the state moves.

Greenberg wants to address both of those points.

“The biggest thing … is allegations of political payback,” he says.

Greenberg says he’s registered as a Republican but only so he can vote in primaries.

“I’ve never been able to pigeonhole myself,” he says. “I’m not political. I’m not an activist.”

Greenberg says he hasn’t made a political contribution to Gov. Sam Brownback or anyone else in at least a decade or more.

He says a broker with J.P. Weigand & Sons brought him the possible deal.

“This was a natural,” Greenberg says of his space.

Read More »

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.”

Read More »

Department for Children and Families explains search for new Wichita space

WICHITA — A spokeswoman for the Department for Children and Families, formerly known as SRS, says the Finney State Office Building in Wichita is no longer adequate for the agency.

On Monday, Have You Heard? reported that nine state agencies, including more than 700 employees, will leave the building at 230 E. William when the state’s lease expires on Sept. 30, 2014.

Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, questioned the motives for leaving, and Department of Administration spokesman Chuck Knapp said each agency would have to explain for itself.

DCF has the largest presence in the building with more than 550 employees. DCF spokeswoman Theresa Freed was unavailable to comment at the time but is available now.

“The reason we’re leaving is that the facility doesn’t meet our needs anymore,” Freed says.

She says part of the issue is that the office is spread out over multiple floors.

“It’s difficult to, obviously, have to go between the floors for the clients and the staff.”

Freed says a change in the agency’s business model in which it tries to get immediate answers for people who apply for benefits is leading to something of a logjam in its lobby area.

“The lobby at that building just isn’t adequate,” she says.

Read More »

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.”

Read More »