Ask Dave Burk how many “rehabs” of old commercial and warehouse buildings in Old Town he’s been involved with and he’ll tell you he doesn’t have an exact count, other than to say “the majority.”
The exact number is 39, according to the Center for Real Estate at Wichita State University and the Kansas chapter of Certified Commercial Investment Members. They are the two organizations that are jointly honoring Burk on Thursday with their Lifetime Achievement Award. The award will be presented at a luncheon at the Marcus Welcome Center at Wichita State University.
“It’s a tremendous honor to be recognized by people in your field, that you’ve done something of significance over the years,” Burk said in an interview this week. “It was quite a surprise, and I didn’t expect it at all.”
The award isn’t just about the number of buildings someone has developed, said Stan Longhofer, director of the Center for Real Estate. It’s more about the “meaningful” impact a real estate professional has had on the local industry and the community, he said.
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“When you think about it, Dave Burk is a visionary,” Longhofer said. “He was seeing opportunity in the core area of Wichita when everyone else was turning away.”
Burk’s first Old Town project was converting the former Modern Cleaners building at 904 E. Douglas into the Larkspur restaurant, which he and then-partner Rich Vliet developed and opened in 1991. He said that was a memorable project because it was not an easy one.
“Your first deal is the hardest,” he said. “You have no experience, and you have very little money.”
He said even before Larkspur, he had a bigger vision for the area that housed a concentration of the city’s oldest buildings that hadn’t yet been razed. And the city bought into that vision, naming Burk and Vliet’s Marketplace Properties the preferred developer for what became the Old Town Marketplace. He said he was the benefactor of beginning to develop Old Town at the right time.
“The timing was good, and the politics were good,” he said.
“He’s created something that changed our world, really,” said Brad Saville, CEO of Landmark Commercial Real Estate and this year’s Kansas chapter CCIM president.
Burk said his education at Iowa State University as an architect made his entry into development easy when he decided to go that route in the mid-1980s.
The planning and designing behind a renovation project “a lot of times, that’s the most costly part of development,” he said. “So I decided to do it myself.”
Burk, an Iowa native, originally moved to Wichita in 1971 to work for hotel developer and entrepreneur Jack DeBoer.
He said renovating old buildings wasn’t an interest he developed until after architecture school.
“(Old buildings are) kind of my niche,” Burk said. “I enjoy working with old buildings and giving them new use.”
While most of his renovation projects have been in Old Town, he is a partner in the WaterWalk downtown, which consists of new buildings, and in the Ambassador Hotel Wichita, a 14-story building constructed in 1926 at Broadway and Douglas.
But Burk said his interest in development still resides in Old Town. He and DJ, his wife of 34 years, live in the Grant Telegraph Centre that Burk converted to residential lofts about a decade ago.
He said Old Town is not finished. He’d like to see it taken to “the next level” by adding retail and other entertainment space on the edges of surface parking areas around the district. That will help improve the walk-ability of the area and give people more reasons to continue coming down there.
And he said there are other renovation projects waiting to be done.
“There’s some buildings I’m buying in Old Town that will give me projects next year,” he said..