Several little-known local developers and their development partners are proposing a massive commercial development in Bel Aire that could ultimately cover 580 acres.
Saying they expect to begin construction on the first buildings this year, the developers envision a project that includes retail stores, sports venues and even an aquarium.
Tom Blitz of Kansas and Shopping Center Development & Consulting is working with the city of Bel Aire, the landowner, on Caban Marketplace along North Rock Road.
At this point, only one of the many related projects is close to breaking ground. A set of upper-end apartments is slated to break ground on 53rd Street, west of Rock Road, said Ty Lasher, city manager of Bel Aire.
Most of the other projects’ developers have given Blitz letters of intent and are securing financing, Blitz said.
The size and scope of the project could be affected by whether the developers and city are able to get approval from the state to use sales and tax revenue bond financing, which is repaid using the state sales tax collected from businesses on site. The bonds would be used to build the project’s infrastructure.
STAR bonds are intended for destination projects that pull in at least 30 percent of visitors from beyond a 100-mile radius.
The developers have interest from a number of unusual entertainment projects, such as an aquarium, a basketball complex and a baseball/softball complex, a movie theater, a water park/destination hotel (not Wolf Lodge, Blitz said), along with the apartments and hundreds of thousands of square feet of retail.
Blitz, a small local commercial contractor who happened to make contact two years ago with Bel Aire city officials eager to develop hundreds of acres of city-owned land, said he originally intended to build just a retail building, but the demand has pushed him and his partners to keep expanding the project. He has brought in more experienced developers, he said.
Although they have options on all of the 580 acres, the only construction the developers control directly is the retail center. However, that is pretty big, up to 500,000 square feet on nearly 30 acres, at the southwest corner of 53rd and Rock Road, adjacent to the Bel Aire City Hall. Blitz said the aquarium is being discussed for the same area, but he said he couldn’t disclose any details yet.
He said he would only build retail space as there is demand, but he said he has financing and some tenants in place and expects to start the first building in 2013.
“We are definitely solid and moving forward,” said Blitz.
Other pieces of the development would go to the roughly 480 acres of land around the new Northeast Magnet High School and north to K-254. About 140 acres would become two sports complexes, he said.
Blitz said that although these projects are awaiting financing, he is confident they are coming.
He said that because the projects are still in the early stages, he couldn’t name the companies or developers involved.
The developers and the city are currently assembling the information needed to approach the Kansas Department of Commerce about the STAR bonds.
The developers say they project their sports facilities will pull in more than 1,000 youth and adult teams with 3.7 million people per year.
There may be a conflict with the GoodSports project at Greenwich and K-96, about three miles away.
That project is set to go before the Wichita City Council this month for approval and then go before the Kansas Secretary of Commerce in search of STAR bonds. The GoodSports project includes a 65,000-square-foot field house that is expected to pull in basketball tournaments and leagues.
Allen Bell, director of urban development for the city of Wichita, said the state doesn’t want STAR bond projects to compete directly with each other.
GoodSports project champion and City Council member Pete Meitzner said he hadn’t heard about the Bel Aire project.
“My first reaction is it could be in conflict,” he said.
The group developing the GoodSports project is also developing one with outdoor sports facilities in Goddard, but that one is further away from seeking STAR bonds.
Blitz said the sports complexes may seem similar, but he thinks they are different enough.
“We’re not trying to pull from their complex,” he said. “We’re increasing the overall pie.”
And Blitz said the project won’t die if it can’t get STAR bonds.
“We wouldn’t be at the level it would like, we might have to cut some corners, but it’s not like we couldn’t do the project.”