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A conversation with … Larry Weber

  • Published Sunday, July 15, 2012, at 7:16 a.m.

Larry Weber has been working at the Garvey Center since before he ever worked for the late Willard Garvey or his company, Builders Inc.

Weber managed the former Holiday Inn, which was on ground Garvey owned. Eventually, he converted it into residential apartments for Garvey.

Today, he oversees the Garvey Center’s five buildings at 250 W. Douglas.

There’s a 96 percent occupancy rate for the 340,000 square feet of commercial space and a 100 percent occupancy rate for the 300,000 square feet of residential space at the center.

Where are you from?

If you promise not to tell, I was born in Buffalo. What good comes out of Buffalo? I’ve heard Buffalo called the armpit of the nation.

And your first job was at your grandmother’s restaurant?

Standing on Coke cartons … to wash dishes.

What was your long-term career goal?

I was on a football scholarship to the University of Houston as an equipment manager. … My goal was to do that for the Houston Oilers. Where else can you have a better seat for the halftime show than on the bench … and nobody ever hits you? It was great. I was going to do that as a profession.

Then you realized you needed money. What did you do?

The Travelodge as a night desk clerk.

What about that convinced you to change career goals to hotel and restaurant management?

What changed me was the realization that I could make a lot more money in the hospitality industry. And those halftime shows end up being the same over and over.

So what did you do for a career?

I’ve managed hotels throughout the Southwest. Houston. Little Rock. Dallas. Austin. Shreveport. Birmingham. Albuquerque.

How did you get to Wichita?

All that moving and everything was really tough on the family, and I took a job managing the Broadview … because this was my wife’s hometown.

How was it?

I lasted 90 days.

Seriously? What happened?

It wasn’t quite the package that was sold to me.

So what did you do then?

I ended up managing other hotels here in town. … Eventually I ended up running the Holiday Inn during 1988 to 1992. … When it was sold in ’92 … I went to work for Spears Catering and ran their catering division for several years.

And then Willard (Garvey) called me and wanted me to come back and run (the former Holiday Inn) as a hotel when he got control of it in 1997. I spent about a year putting together a hotel deal … and Willard brought me into his office one day and said, “If no one checks in, what will be my operating losses for a year?” And I said, “Of course somebody’s going to check in, Willard. It’s not going to be vacant for a whole year.” He said, “I don’t care. I want to know my worst-case number.” So I went back and ran the numbers. … The number was $1 million a year. At that point, Willard said, “Forget it.”

So he told me, “Find something else to do with it.” It was at that point that his property manager for the office here at the Garvey Center resigned, and Willard told me to go down there and sit at his desk and babysit it.

So what did you do?

I went down and babysat it.

I called – my first day because I knew nothing about commercial real estate – I called a good friend, Ted Branson, and I talked to Ted for two-and-a-half hours on the phone about the Garvey Center and what the problems were – challenges, attributes – everything. And at the end of that conversation, Ted said, “Do you have 30,000 square feet of space?”

I said, “Sure, we’re only at 67 percent occupancy.” And then Ted said, “Well, Cessna Finance needs office space,” and the rest is history.

What did Willard say, besides giving you the job permanently?

He said, “That’s great. What are you going to do tomorrow?”

What was he like to work for?

It was a pleasure to work for Willard. He made you think. You never went into him unprepared. He taught me a lot. He really did.

Like what?

How to analyze, breaking things down into their simplest problem. He had business edicts that he managed by. It’ll be paid for with an approved purchase order in advance or a payroll deduction afterwards.

You also were tasked with finding a use for the former Holiday Inn. What did you consider?

Make it into a jail. … Could we make it storage units? Could we make it university housing? What would it cost to drop the building? And I ran scenarios on all of those. … Finally, I came up with the apartments.

What did Garvey say?

Willard’s first question was, “What’s it going to cost if nobody rents an apartment for a year?” And I said, “Zero.” And he said, “What?” And I said, “Yeah, I don’t turn the power on. I don’t have any staff. No operating cost.” He said, “Fine, go ahead and do it.”

No market study was done. No cost analysis was done.

How difficult is your job these days?

The Builders’ philosophy is fabulous because we take care of our tenants, and downtown is being revitalized, which makes my job even easier.

Do you see your job changing in the near future?

(I’ll do) more third-party management for Builders. Meaning manage other people’s buildings and turn them around like we did this one.

You’re also quite the marketer. Can you share the story of how you landed Papa John’s for the Garvey Center?

Terry Newman and Dan Carney … came here to look at the location, and I preordered 80 pizzas from Papa John’s from different locations. … Invited all of the commercial tenants in the buildings … to come down for free pizza at lunch, and the tour was set for 12:30.

So when (they) arrived to look at the location, there was 200 people standing outside of it eating their pizza.

So what did Newman and Carney say?

We need a location here.

Anything keep you up at night?

No. Stress is self-induced, so I sleep like a baby.

You’re also an avid bicyclist, right?

I love to bike. It’s great exercise, great think time. I just think it’s something to be able to go hundreds of miles on your own, no motor. Just out there doing it.

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