June 25, 2013

Two groups seek public incentives from city to develop riverfront land for apartments

Two longtime opponents of public subsidies for private development squared off Tuesday as they vied for the right to develop apartments on city-owned land at First and McLean with public incentives.

Two longtime opponents of public subsidies for private development squared off Tuesday as they vied for the right to develop apartments on city-owned land at First and McLean with public incentives.

The Wichita City Council listened for two hours to detailed proposals from partnerships headed by Wichita developers Steve Clark and George Laham.

Both developers seek tax increment financing and sales tax and revenue bond incentives for the developments proposed for the southeast corner of the intersection. No date was set to make a decision between the two projects.

Clark Investments and its development partner, HCW, are proposing The Riv, a $17.8-million 140-unit apartment complex, featuring one- and two-bedroom units ranging from 657 to 1,321 square feet. Rents would begin between $850 and $900.

Laham and his partners — Dave Burk of Marketplace Properties, Dave Wells of Key Construction and Bill Warren’s Free Market Investments — are proposing River Vista Residences, a $22-million facility with 154 apartments ranging from 960 to 1,450 square feet, and 20,000 square feet of retail and office space. Rents would start at $970 a month.

Both projects will seek substantial tax increment financing and STAR Bond incentives, the latter possible because the project falls along the river corridor between WaterWalk and the Keeper of the Plains statue. Clark and HCW are seeking a lease on the city’s property at Second and McLean, a long-term deal for $1 per year, similar to the WaterWalk land lease. Laham’s group is seeking a $350,000 discount on the purchase of land valued at $900,000.

Tax increment financing captures future tax gains to subsidize improvements. STAR bonds allow the state’s sales tax on purchases to be captured for certain development costs in a district, including land acquisition and public and private infrastructure.

Clark has been a longtime critic of city economic development policies. In September 2012 — after his group began seeking the First and McLean deal — Clark penned an e-mail blaming the city’s policies for his decision to seek the incentives.

Laham also has been a proponent of free market economics, touting the free market’s role in the success of his Bradley Fair retail development in east Wichita.

The Riv, a gated community, would include a state of the art fitness facility, pool, fireplaces and fire pits in a resort-style design. Also included are gourmet kitchens, indoor and outdoor dining areas, river views, an outside grill and walking trails.

It targets an apartment market that Huffman identified with an acronym, WINK — Women, Income, No Kids.

River Vista would include a pool, clubhouse, sun deck and exercise room. There also are plans for a unique river-side business, “Boats and Bikes,” that would be a home for the bikes and boats of residents — and the Wichita State rowing team — while making boats available to the public for rent.

"We think this is an extremely important project to downtown Wichita. It takes downtown redevelopment to another level,” Laham said.

Tuesday’s presentations came with a twist — only one developer was permitted inside the council board room at a time.

And a quirk in the talks was unveiled when Wichita native Rick Huffman, representing HCW, complained mildly during the Clark Investments presentation about the city’s decision to issue a request for proposals on the Second and McLean land.

Huffman said — and city officials confirmed — that a development agreement was in the works between the city and Clark Investments for the property when the city decided to issue an RFP, after Laham’s group expressed interest in offering a proposal.

"We were into the real details when we were told there was going to be an RFP, so we kind of stopped spending money," Huffman noted.

Scott Knebel, the city’s downtown revitalization manager, called Huffman’s assertion “an interesting perspective” after the meeting.

“We’ve always laid out to the group there would be an RFP as part of the process,” Knebel said. “They asked us to work on a development agreement with them and we did. I’m not really sure where the thought comes that the RFP process was a surprise.”

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