Three of Wichita’s most successful developers – Jack DeBoer, Steve Clark and Colby Sandlian – are eyeing potential apartment projects downtown.
All three think that significant housing growth is essential downtown before the area can successfully land retail shops and restaurants.
“Why in the world would I look at apartments? Because I love it and it’s what I do,” DeBoer said Monday.
DeBoer thinks downtown also needs more office space to provide work for those who might to live downtown. With the city poised to help with infrastructure like parking projects, downtown has become more inviting to the local developers, who have successful resumes in residential and commercial development in Wichita and nationally.
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Local developer interest is a huge boost to the credibility of the downtown effort, said Jeff Fluhr, president of the Wichita Downtown Development Corp.
“These developers know Wichita, and they know success in Wichita,” he said. “They have a proven track record, and we would welcome that success downtown.”
DeBoer is eyeing the west bank of the Arkansas River for his projects; Clark and Sandlian said they are in the idea phase at this point. But the trio agrees on one key point: Revitalization can’t work without more people living downtown.
“I believe the solution is not more public projects, not more restaurants and more attractions,” DeBoer said. “Downtown needs more housing, plain and simple. If we get more people downtown the rest of it will follow, and it will not happen in the reverse.”
Clark said his group has “something in mind” in multi-family housing downtown that he didn’t want to elaborate on, but it’s too early to tell whether the project is feasible.
“Talks have been ongoing with the city,” he said. “There are certainly some opportunities downtown, like there are out east on our ground out there and out of town, too, for that matter.”
Sandlian, who has developed apartment complexes in the past, said flatly, “I look at everything.”
He’s interested particularly in new designs of the three-story walkup apartments popular in Wichita a half-century ago, most built on the small 50-foot lots that “are everywhere downtown.” Sandlian also sees potential for downtown apartments between Kellogg and Lincoln.
Clark, a longtime opponent of public subsidies for private development, said he won’t follow the traditional project path downtown of historic renovations, fed by tax credit packages. He said his group will pay its own way and will build new.
“I’ve indicated to the city for a long time that the best thing is to clean out the old projects, the old buildings, because of the lower cost and the shorter lifespan,” Clark said. “It’s not as good a starting point as a blank piece of ground.”
DeBoer wants to build Class A or high quality office space downtown, space that is essential, he said, for downtown’s growth.
“The other (retail) stuff doesn’t attract what we need right now,” he said. “I strongly believe what downtown needs is more places to live and office. Places where people live and work.”
DeBoer’s downtown interest was reinforced by the success of the Spring Parade of Homes at WaterWalk, where he said seven condos were sold – the biggest one-shot sale since he took over the flagging development in November 2009.
“It’s a huge deal, something I’m very excited about,” he said. “So much so that we’re going to raise the prices on them.”
Like Clark, DeBoer’s not ready to announce committed projects. But he’s engrossed in his return to apartment building where he got his start as a developer five decades ago.
DeBoer teamed up with his father to build homes in the 1950s. In 1966, DeBoer began building apartments and in 1973, his company had built more than 16,000 apartments in 30 cities across 25 states before DeBoer went broke and shifted his focus to the hotel industry.
So it’s about coming full-circle, said DeBoer, who pledged to keep developing until he dies.
“Here I go again,” he said, laughing.