Wichita’s Waterwalk failure breeds skepticism

A recent Wichita Eagle editorial starts with this: “Seven years into a project that was supposed to give Wichita a grand gathering place full of shops, restaurants and night spots as well as offices and condos, some City Council members and citizens remain skeptical at best about WaterWalk’s ability to deliver on its big promises. … True, the skepticism to date is richly deserved.”

The editorial goes on to report that public investment in this project has risen to $41 million. I don’t know if this figure includes long-term land leases for $1 per year.

In any case, there’s little to show for this investment. Even the proposal for the redevelopment of downtown Wichita from the planning firm Goody Clancy realizes that WaterWalk is a failure:

Indeed, Water Walk might be struggling to fill its space because it has, simply put, hit a ceiling: it is focusing on food and fun, and perhaps there is room for only one such district (Old Town) in Downtown Wichita. The Arena could help in this regard, but until the publicly subsidized Water Walk is a rousing success, it might not make sense to split the pie still further.

With this glaring example of failure of a public-private partnership staring right at us in downtown Wichita, why do we want to plan for more of this? Shouldn’t we at least wait until WaterWalk is finished (if that ever happens) before we go down the path of throwing more public investment into the hands of subsidy-seeking developers?

At minimum, we ought to insist that the developers of the WaterWalk project be excluded from any consideration for further taxpayer subsidy. The WaterWalk development team: Dave Burk, Marketplace Properties, LLC; Jack P. DeBoer, Consolidated Holdings, Inc.; Gregory H. Kossover, Consolidated Holdings, Inc.; David E. Wells, Key Construction, Inc.; and Tom Johnson, CRE, WaterWalk LLC need to recognize their failure and the tremendous amount they have cost the Wichita taxpayer.

Some of these people — Burk and Wells to be specific — are partners in the failed Old Town Warren Theater TIF district. In that case, the city felt it had to make a no-interest (later becoming a low-interest) loan to protect its interests.

It’s a near certainty that the plans for downtown Wichita — at least plans as grand as revitalization supporters must be thinking of — will require massive subsidy. Already new taxes are being talked up. We don’t have a good record of protecting the taxpayers’ investment in Wichita. What makes us think we can change now?

6 thoughts on “Wichita’s Waterwalk failure breeds skepticism”

  1. Hi, I went to Gander Mountain at lunch today, bought something, and on my way out I was met by a gentleman carrying his bait bucket into Gander to get a re-fill. Somehow I don’t think that was the concept that the “raised pinky set” had in mind for the “water walk”. I’m still snickering.

    I can’t claim the term “raised pinky set” for the cultured downtown set, heard it here at work.
    Later

  2. Waterwalk is struggling because the developers don’t know what they are doing. What do they have to show for $41 million dollars of taxpayer money? Very little!

  3. As a resident of Wichita, and a supporter of downtown renewal, I wish the Waterwalk project success.

    As a former resident of Indianapolis, I can appreciate and share in the vision of a revitalized downtown and riverwalk. The overriding concern in my mind is to viability. The former ‘designers’ did a horrible job, the river front itself is under utilized, and the inconsiderate location of Gander mountain makes the whole project almost unworkable. When I look at the plan of Waterwalk, to me it is clear that the waterwalk apartments and gander mountain should have been switched. As to the so called world cup boat, the one we have here is not even the real thing, it should be moved. Right now the boathouse a white elephant., the boathouse should be the cornerstone of the ‘restaurants on the waterwalk’ effort.

    One other point, the development should be allowed to extend across to the library, the library should be knocked down and be located elsewhere. The long term plan should be to use both sides of the river, connected by pedestrian bridge. Any riverfront property should be utilized fully, cafes, restaurants, art studios etc should be designed into the plan. If this is going to work long term, it needs a vision larger than what we have right now.

    In the bigger scheme of things, I’d add the baseball stadium to the list of acquisitions, this and the two churches along the river need to be purchased and brought into the whole plan. A mishmash of ‘island’ developments will not do it.

    As to exploration place, it is not a viable entity, somehow it too needs to be incorporated into the whole scheme, add restaurants and other shopping options to its site, a mall like Indianapolis has downtown is needed here. I’m too old to party, but having a nightclub on the waters edge at exploration place appeals to me!

  4. Jeez Alan, that’s a nice plan, but it’s a damn big one. I don’t see the churches selling out for too cheap, they have a good location that brings people downtown. So far I think the cost for a new library was at least $20 million and as much as $45 million. Either way, the one that they have is fine, we don’t need a new library.

    You buy it, I’ll come and watch.

    Mike
    Wichita KS

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