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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Remodeling work to start next week at Kansas Coliseum for NIAR

By Deb Gruver
The Wichita Eagle

Work to remodel Britt Brown Arena at the former Kansas Coliseum complex will begin next week so the National Institute for Aviation Research can do full-scale structural testing and other work and testing there.

Developer Johnny Stevens confirmed Thursday that he would close Tuesday on his deal with Sedgwick County to buy Britt Brown and the Kansas Pavilions at the complex at I-135 and 85th Street North. The Wichita oilman said he and NIAR were working out final details on a lease agreement.

NIAR will use 130,000 of remodeled square feet for future expansion to meet client needs, spokeswoman Tracee Friess said.

Stevens is paying Sedgwick County $1.5 million for the property, including the pavilions. Britt Brown closed in early 2010 when Intrust Bank Arena opened in downtown Wichita. The county has continued to operate the pavilions — popular for horse, dog and livestock events as well as swap meets — at a loss.

The first task will be to tackle Britt Brown’s roof, said Stevens, who developed the Waterfront at 13th Street and Webb Road. Stevens is not related to the Steven brothers — Rodney, Brandon and Johnny Steven — who own the Wichita Thunder hockey team.

Stevens said he had ran into a couple of “surprises” at the property but “nothing that’s earth-shattering.”

Stevens plans some improvements to the pavilions, including wiring so people can access the internet and use credit cards in the building.

“We’re looking at some other things we might do in the horse arena area,” he said. “We’re going to do more marketing. We’re working on a website and brochure.”

He plans to keep the pavilions open through at least Jan. 1, 2016, and if profitable, beyond then.

County Commissioner Dave Unruh said that Stevens has bent over backwards to work with NIAR.

“I really am appreciative of the fact that our buyer is doing everything he can to accommodate NIAR,” he said.

Some of the remodeling, Unruh said, “could drive up rent prices, but he’s working real hard with NIAR because he recognizes it’s a great asset for the Air Capital of the World.”

Commissioner Richard Ranzau voted against doing business with Stevens because he was worried about the county not following through with its original plan to hire a broker to market the property. Stevens was one of Ranzau’s campaign contributors.

After the county decided to forego a broker and work directly with Stevens, Ranzau said he was worried about a perception of a “sweetheart deal.”

Ranzau said NIAR “will be a good anchor tenant.”

He said he thought Stevens would do a good job operating the pavilions. The complex is in Ranzau’s commission district.

The Park City Council recently approved a letter of intent to issue up to $5 million in industrial revenue bonds for the Coliseum project.

It is contingent upon Park City’s ability to annex the property.

Reach Deb Gruver at 316-268-6400 or dgruver@wichitaeagle.com.

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