Developer Stevens hopes to keep pavilions openBy DEB GRUVER
The Wichita Eagle
Developer Johnny Stevens says he would like to make a go of the Kansas Pavilions and keep them open for as long as possible.
"Up to this point, they have not been profitable. We’re hoping we can make it work,” he said.
Sedgwick County recently agreed to sell Stevens the pavilions and Britt Brown Arena at the former Kansas Coliseum complex for $1.5 million.
Stevens plans to refurbish Britt Brown, which closed early last year, and lease it to the National Institute for Aviation Research, as The Eagle first reported last month. He had considered using the pavilions as warehouse space but said last week that he hopes to keep the pavilions open for the horse, livestock and dog shows that have called the buildings home for years.
“That’s what they were built for,” Stevens said.
But he notes that they have not made money for the county, instead drawing a county subsidy for years. The budgeted subsidy next year is $584,000 but likely will grow higher. The estimated subsidy for this year is $743,300.
County commissioners approved a letter of intent to sell to Stevens in October. The sales contract went into effect Nov. 10, the day his agreement with the county was filed with a title company.
Stevens has 60 days to make sure his plan is solid. He said “we’ve found a couple of zingers” but nothing so far that would drive him away from the project. He declined to say what those issues were.
Stevens doesn’t yet have a signed deal with NIAR. He said part of the 60-day review period is figuring out how much it will cost to refurbish Britt Brown for the institute, which is part of Wichita State University.
At the end of the 60 days, assistant county manager Ron Holt said, Stevens has one day to decide whether to go forward or not. If he moves forward, the property will close within 30 days.
A Wichita oilman and partner in the Waterfront, Stevens met recently with groups that use the pavilions off of I-135 at 85th Street North.
Pat Deshler, corresponding secretary for the Wichita Kennel Club, the host club for the Sunflower Cluster dog shows, said she went away impressed.
“He said he had every intention of doing that,” she said, referring to the county’s commitment to keep the pavilions open up to Jan. 1, 2016. “He was extremely interested in everyone’s needs. We had all sorts of people there.”
Deshler said the county did not market the pavilions after Intrust Bank Arena opened in downtown Wichita.
“We’re not very happy with the county commissioners, I’ll tell you that. A million and half for something that they said was worth $22 million is giving it away,” she said of the complex and its appraisal.
Commissioners say no one else stepped with viable offers. The county entertained proposals a few years ago but opted not to open negotiations with developers at the time because the deals required too much public financing.
Stevens, who is not related to the Steven family that owns Genesis Health Clubs and recently bought the Wichita Thunder, is not seeking any money from the county to develop the complex.
“If this deal goes through, we’ll do everything in our power to help him make a go of it,” Deshler said of Stevens’ plans.
The dog show is expanding its show from three to four days next year, Deshler said. A three-day show typically brings in about $1.75 million to the area, she said.
“We thought it would be better for everyone, hopefully improve the economic situation out there,” she said.
The county has the club’s dog show dates through 2019, but the club doesn’t have any signed contracts yet.
“We’re working on verbal agreements,” Deshler said. “It’s not a very good business situation.”
Patty Stalder, executive director of the Kansas Horse Council, which has put on the annual Equifest horse show at the pavilions for 15 years, said that group also is pleased with Stevens’ plans.
“We’re excited about the possibilities of a private business running the facility,” Stalder said. “We want to keep the facility open for ag-related activities and want to see it prosper and grow.”
The income generated from Equifest of Kansas for hotels, restaurants, gas stations and retail businesses is just under $6 million.
Equifest does have a contract with the pavilions for next year, Stalder said. The show will be Feb. 10 to 12.
“They’re very open to what is needed to function better and be more appealing to more associations,” Stalder said of Stevens and his associates. “I think it’s pretty much the best-case scenario.”Reach Deb Gruver at 316-268-6400 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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