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A downtown Wichita urban renewal success story … not

This history lesson from Karl Peterjohn of the Kansas Taxpayers Network tells the story of what might have been for downtown Wichita, and shows how close Wichita came to losing a company very important to our local economy, even if they’re not located downtown.

In the 1960’s the urban renewal redevelopment project that became Century II used eminent domain and forced a medium sized, private company in the petroleum business out of their office building and corporate headquarters on the south side of W. Douglas just east of the river.

This business was in transition with the founder handing off control to a young relative who had been living and working out-of-state. This firm’s two major business assets were outside of Kansas so the firm’s geographic ties to Wichita were not strong either. At that time, I’ve been told that this business had gross sales around $250 million a year and possessed their own multi-story office building downtown. That sales figure is understated and would be a lot more if measured in the inflated 2007 dollars.

Local leaders in Wichita had decided that they knew what was best for downtown and using the urban renewal redevelopment program’s eminent domain powers, acquired a large chunk of downtown (as well as many other parcels across this community — see Wichita Business Journal’s most recent list of biggest local taxpayers that still prominently includes the City of Wichita).

The medium sized petroleum company left Wichita after losing their building. This company relocated a couple of miles north of the Wichita city limits back then (they were eventually annexed back into the city many years later) but could have easily relocated elsewhere. Conversely, imagine what downtown Wichita would be like if this firm had remained there. You may have guessed that I’m referring to Koch Industries and their 1,800 local employees.

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