The state appears to be zeroing in on new space for the Department for Children and Families near East 47th Street South and South Oliver, even as Mayor Carl Brewer is working to try to keep the office where it is.
“I have been digging into this, and I have heard from reliable folks that the state is looking at (that building),” said Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, who has been critical of a possible move.
Brewer went to Topeka on Wednesday to visit with Gov. Sam Brownback about keeping DCF and other state agencies in the Finney State Office Building at 230 E. William.
Last month, The Eagle reported that the state of Kansas has notified the city of Wichita that its nine agencies that occupy the downtown building won’t be renewing their leases after 20 years in the city-owned space. That means more than 700 people will be moving, more than 550 of whom are with DCF.
According to Loopnet, an online commercial real estate site, there’s a two-story, 100,000-square-foot former Bank of America call center that’s available near the southwest corner of the intersection, and it looks like that’s what the state could be interested in.
“I hope that that’s not true,” Ward said. “I don’t think that’s a good spot. … I don’t think that’s a good location for those kinds of services.”
One of his concerns is that Jezebel’s, an adult club, is across the street.
“It’s not unusual for kids to be part of their parents’ dealing with the state,” Ward said.
He also wonders how accessible the site would be compared to the more centralized Finney building.
Brewer didn’t return calls for comment. A representative of the governor’s office confirmed the meeting but wouldn’t say anything more.
“I know that the governor and Mayor Brewer did in fact meet this morning,” said spokeswoman Sara Belfry. “I believe they talked about a couple of things, including the Wichita office building.”
She said she can’t comment on whether the state has selected a possible future DCF site.
“That’s as much as I know,” Belfry said. “I just know they had a good meeting.”
Nor did DCF spokeswoman Theresa Freed confirm the state may be negotiating for space.
“We continue to look at potential locations for our Wichita office,” Freed said. “We’re searching for one that … will better meet our needs.”
Ward said he’s researched the state’s process for moving departments.
“It’s been quite enlightening,” he said.
“I didn’t see any smoking gun except that no one represents the users,” he said of DCF clients and other taxpayers who visit the Finney building.
Ward said that’s his No. 1 priority.
A close second, he said, is to find out who owns the building where the departments may move “to make sure this isn’t going to help a political contributor.”