Sunflower Development Group could start downtown apartment work by spring

Two of the three downtown apartment buildings a Kansas City company is looking to convert into affordable housing.

Two of the three downtown apartment buildings a Kansas City company is looking to convert into affordable housing.

WICHITA — Kansas City-based Sunflower Development Group still has plans to renovate historic apartments from the early 1900s across from WaterWalk, but the project probably won’t start until early spring.

“We’re going to close first quarter next year,” says Jason Swords. “It’s a deal that’s moving forward.”

His group is buying properties at 507 and 509 S. Market and 514 S. Main to redevelop them as affordable housing. The almost $6 million development will be a mix of studio apartments and one-bedroom units.

“The issue that we’ve had is tax credits have been harder to broker on the federal side than they used to be, and we expect that to ease up after the first of the year,” Swords says.

He says 90 percent of Sunflower’s work is with historic rehabilitation.

Swords is interested in Wichita for a number of reasons, including that his wife is from here.

“I’ve been to Wichita … a number of times,” he says. “It’s a quick run from Kansas City.”

Swords also likes the older buildings here.

“There’s a great building stock that needs to be redeveloped.”

Kansas City group to restore historic apartments near WaterWalk

Two of the three downtown apartment buildings a Kansas City company is looking to convert into affordable housing.

WICHITA — A Kansas City group is looking to renovate historic apartments from the early 1900s across from WaterWalk.

“We restore historic properties,” says Jason Swords of Sunflower Development Group.

His group has not yet purchased the properties, which are at 507 and 509 S. Market and 514 S. Main St.

“We’re going to convert the three buildings to affordable housing,” Swords says.

The almost $6 million development will be a mix of studio apartments and one-bedroom units.

Residents will have to meet salary requirements to qualify for the housing.

“We had to work with the people of WaterWalk and the surrounding neighbors,” Swords says.

Sunflower is seeking affordable housing and historic tax credits.

Swords says the city of Wichita has approved bonds for the project, but the state hasn’t allocated the money yet, so he doesn’t want to say too much about the project yet.

Look for more information in the coming weeks.

Courtyard by Marriott renovates in Old Town

WICHITA — What’s the fun in traveling only to be stuck in a hotel room?

That’s what Marriott International thinks, and that’s why the Courtyard by Marriott at 820 E. Second St. in Old Town has had a major renovation of its lobby and other public areas.

Jim Korroch, developer of the 128-room hotel that opened in 2006, says the buzz word for the renovation was to “activate” the lobby.

He says the idea was “to really make it an area where guests feel like they can get out of their rooms and … socialize with other guests.”

There’s a new bistro called Table 820. It’s mainly for guests, although Korroch says, “Anybody is welcome to use it.”

It’s in the same area as a bar and a Starbucks service station.

Without these kinds of amenities, Korroch says, “Frankly, it causes us to hang out more in our rooms.”

The hotel’s traditional front desk has been replaced with welcome pedestals of sorts, which are more private and personal, according to the hotel.

There’s free WiFi, computer terminals, a printer and the thing that often proves the most elusive for business and other travelers: plenty of electrical outlets.

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Doug Rupe leaves WaterWalk for Legend Senior Living

WICHITA — Doug Rupe no longer is WaterWalk’s executive vice president. He’s taken a new job with Legend Senior Living.

“Well, he just had a great opportunity to take over development,” says WaterWalk owner Jack DeBoer.

“You know, I never stand in the way,” he says. “It’s a big loss, but … he’ll be a great asset for them.”

DeBoer isn’t replacing Rupe – at least for now.

“We’re shuffling some people around a little bit,” he says. “We’re going to kind of see how it goes with the team we have.”

Gander Mountain to remodel and add Gander Mountain Academy

WICHITA — Gander Mountain is ready to remodel and add a Gander Mountain Academy to its WaterWalk store downtown.

“Gander Mountain Academy is the ultimate experience in firearms training,” says director Chris Juelich, using the academy’s tagline.

Have You Heard? first reported the academy was a possibility in February.

“The goal is to be done right around the first couple of weeks of November,” Juelich says.

“It’ll be the sixth one of its kind in the United States.”

That’s out of 116 stores the Minnesota-based company has in 23 states.

Part of the reason the Wichita store was chosen is because the company wants to space the academies out around the country.

The WaterWalk Gander Mountain’s success is another reason.

“It’s one of our top performers,” Juelich says.

The academy will have a combination of classroom training simulators, virtual ranges and a live range.

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Gander Mountain may remodel and add shooting range

WICHITA — It looks like Gander Mountain may soon be remodeling its store at WaterWalk.

Nationally, the Minnesota-based company has been planning remodels at a number of stores along with adding indoor shooting ranges.

There’s no official announcement on when — or if — the remodeling is happening here, but it’s looking very likely.

“It is under serious consideration,” says spokesman David Ewald.

“We are continuing to announce remodels.”

Remodeling includes what Ewald calls “significant changes” to fixtures, sight lines and signage.

The shooting range is called Gander Mountain Academy.

“It’s way, way more than a shooting range,” Ewald says.

“It’s what we call a virtual range,” he says.

There are real handguns that shoot lasers, and virtual simulators allow people to practice in real-life situations in realistic surroundings.

“Which is very cool,” Ewald says. “I’ve tried it myself.”

Look for news on the possible remodeling here later this year.

Ewald says Gander Mountain loves Wichita and has “been delighted to have the store here.”

Tom Johnson joins Grubb & Ellis/Martens Commercial Group as president

Steve Martens (left) and Tom Johnson.

WICHITA — Last fall, Have You Heard? checked in with former WaterWalk president Tom Johnson after hearing he might be working at Grubb & Ellis/Martens Commercial Group.

At the time, it wasn’t true. Now, it is.

Johnson has acquired an interest in the company and is its new president.

Former president Steve Martens remains as CEO and also remains president and CEO of parent company Martens Cos.

“Tom has very unique credentials,” Martens says.

He says Johnson has management and strategic development experience guiding real estate companies and understands the business locally and nationally.

Before joining WaterWalk, where he worked from 2002 to late 2009, Johnson was president of CB Richard Ellis/Oklahoma in Tulsa and Oklahoma City and vice president and general manager of the commercial division of J.P. Weigand & Sons.

“With the talent we have in this organization, Tom’s going to be able to work with them and get them to the next level,” Martens says.

The company employs 25 people, 20 of whom are licensed sales people.

There are 40 employees in total at three companies under the Martens Cos. umbrella.

That includes the brokerage group, Martens Appraisal and Huffman Corridor Consulting.

Grubb & Ellis/Martens Commercial Group also has offices in Lawrence and Hutchinson.

The addition of Johnson frees Martens to focus more on business development and regional and national investment opportunities, though Johnson adds, “I’m sure he’s going to remain hands-on.”

Martens and Johnson have been friends — and friendly competitors — since the 1970s.

Johnson has owned Trinity Realty Advisers for years and says he “basically dusted it off” after WaterWalk and took Martens up on an offer for office space.

He did some consulting with Martens as well.

“I had an interest in doing something back in the brokerage business again,” Johnson says.

Martens says he hadn’t been looking for a new president, but Johnson’s availability got him thinking about possibilities.

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Hana Cafe to double in size and add sake and sushi bars

WICHITA — Picture Framing & More is leaving Old Town Square because of a lack of business, but next-door neighbor Hana Cafe is expanding into that space because its business is doing so well.

Since 13-year-old Hana Cafe moved from 306 N. Rock Road to Old Town four years ago, business has tripled says Eunice Kim, who owns the business with her husband, Jay.

During that time, the popularity of sushi, which is only part of what Hana sells, seems to have grown.

“Every single table has sushi,” Eunice Kim says.

Old Town is attracting more diners as well.

Now, the Kims want to capitalize on the sushi craze and the trend of young people who enjoy partying with music, sushi and sake in the evenings.

The Kims plan to completely remodel their 1,500 square feet and the similarly sized frame shop, which will close at the end of June.

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WaterWalk hotel developers request city assistance

WICHITA — As Have You Heard? reported a month ago, hotelier Jim Korroch is trying to bring a limited-service Marriott flag hotel to WaterWalk.

Korroch isn’t talking, but he and WaterWalk developers have been working with the city and are formally requesting help from the Wichita City Council at Tuesday’s meeting.

In addition to asking for up to $12 million in industrial revenue bonds, they’re also asking for a new kind of financial assistance.

“They’re asking the city to create a community improvement district,” says Allen Bell, the city’s urban development director.

Last year, the Kansas Legislature passed a law to allow the creation of the districts, which are redevelopment tools that provide increased sales tax for businesses.

The districts allow up to 2 percent additional tax that the state would send back to the city.

“We would then use that money to either pay it back to the developer to reimburse the developer for costs they put into the project or use it to pay off city bonds,” Bell says.

Korroch and WaterWalk are requesting the full 2 percent and would use it for project costs — not for city bonds.

“That’s called the pay-as-you-go financing,” Bell says.

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WaterWalk may be home to a Marriott hotel

WICHITA — It looks like a hotel could be coming to WaterWalk, but no one is talking about it yet — at least not publicly.

Hotel developer Jim Korroch may be bringing a Marriott flag hotel to the property.

Korroch also owns the Courtyard by Marriott in Old Town and the SpringHill Suites by Marriott next to his Residence Inn by Marriott in the Plazzio development at 13th and Greenwich.

As early as 2004, WaterWalk developers discussed having a hotel at the downtown development as long as it didn’t hurt the city’s business at the Hyatt Regency Wichita next door.

Now, former minority partner Jack DeBoer is in control of the struggling development, and it looks like he’s trying to secure a deal.

But, as is his new policy, DeBoer won’t confirm or deny anything to do with WaterWalk until it’s a done deal.

Several previous deals have been announced for the project only to not materialize.

The city may be involved in the potential WaterWalk hotel.

“I will confirm that we’re looking . . . at a possible hotel project,” says City Manager Bob Layton.

He won’t say what the potential deal is or that it’s even with Korroch or WaterWalk.

“Our discussions are very preliminary.”