There is an opportunity for Wichita to break the logjam holding up development at WaterWalk.
Critics of city development projects point to WaterWalk as an example of a failed downtown development. Some $41 million of city funds were spent there with few positive results, With the closing of the Gander Mountain store, its fortunes were trending downwards until the King of Freight deal was announced. Although, it is debatable whether offices are a good use for this property, given its promotion as “Wichita’s Next Great Gathering Place,” a center of retail, entertainment, and residence. 1
The King of Freight deal might be a way to get something from a failed development, at least for now. But the city could do more.
The city has many excuses for the failure of WaterWalk. In a recent social media town hall concerning the new baseball stadium and surrounding development, the city’s attitude was clear: WaterWalk is different, the city says. In the social media town hall, the city stated, “Waterwalk wasn’t the deal we put together nor did it have the safeguards of this project. Waterwalk is not a city owned development.” 2
(While the city criticizes the WaterWalk deal for not having safeguards, the protections built in the baseball deal aren’t very strong. And while the city says “WaterWalk is not a city owned development,” neither is the ballpark land development deal. Remember, the city is selling the land.)
What is the meaning of “we?” True, most current city officials weren’t in office at the time of the WaterWalk deal. KFDI reported “Mayor Longwell said it was unfair to “armchair quarterback” the decision that led to the the Waterwalk, especially since everyone on the council, including the Mayor, were not there for the decisions that led to the Waterwalk.”
Accountability belongs to others is the attitude of Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell and other city officials.
But there is a grain of truth in the city’s answer. The city granted development rights for the WaterWalk property to a private development group, and there are about 85 years left in the agreement. That group is now headed by Jack P. DeBoer. He is in control of the land and its use.
That’s troubling. Recently DeBoer confessed to being “confounded” by WaterWalk, telling the Wichita Eagle, “It’s a business I don’t know anything about.” 3
DeBoer has had many years to produce development at WaterWalk. He has the ability to earn profit. But having produced very little and being “confounded” by WaterWalk, I think the key to moving forward is for the city to remove DeBoer and his group from the picture.
DeBoer has a long-term development deal with the city. Now he is asking the city to reconfigure a lease in which he is the tenant. Presumably, the changes he wants are worth something to him.
That’s an opportunity for the city to get something in return. I don’t know what that “something” might be, but this is an opportunity for the city to get some type of modification that might lead to progress at WaterWalk.
- Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer, 2008 State of the City Address. Available at https://www.wichita.gov/Council/CityCouncilDocument/2008%20State%20of%20the%20City%20Address.pdf. ↩
- City of Wichita social media town hall on Facebook, March 7, 2019. See https://wichitaliberty.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/City-of-Wichita-Facebook-Waterwalk-2019-03-07.png. ↩
- Then, of course, there’s his WaterWalk development downtown, which seems to be confounding him a bit.
“It’s a business I don’t know anything about,” DeBoer says.
A Bass Pro Shop once was planned for the mixed-use development and a Gander Mountain opened instead and then closed last year.
“I’ve had opportunities to do, you know, a restaurant or something, and I’ve said, ‘No.’ ”
DeBoer says he’s willing to take more time to be sure he makes the right decisions.
“It’s the key piece of land in all of Wichita,” he says. “I don’t want to spend my life screwing it up.” Rengers, Carrie. Jack DeBoer talks life after Value Place and WoodSpring Suites. Wichita Eagle, November 2, 2018. Available at https://www.kansas.com/news/business/biz-columns-blogs/carrie-rengers/article220992720.html. ↩