Sedgwick County may soon buy two abandoned and battered Coleman Co. buildings in downtown Wichita at Second and St. Francis, demolish them and turn the property into a 514-space parking lot.
Three commissioners — enough to seal a deal — voiced general support Friday for buying the buildings and surrounding property for $600,000.
It would cost an estimated $300,000 to tear down the structures and $600,000 to pave the parking lots.
"I think it's going to be a good value for the arena and will certainly be an improvement for that area and remove a troubled property," said Commission Chairman Karl Peterjohn.
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The groundwater and soil beneath the property are polluted with solvents and other chemicals. Cleanup efforts and monitoring wells are still active at the site.
Coleman signed an agreement with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment in 2009 that limits the property to parking only.
"It's blighted property, you can't do anything else with it, it will help Old Town, it will help the arena," said Commissioner Dave Unruh, who has worked on the project for about two years.
Commissioner Tim Norton said it's too early to say whether drivers would be charged to park at the lot.
People who go to events at Intrust Bank Arena tie up a lot of parking in Old Town, and Norton said future downtown development will likely reduce the surface parking that is available today.
"Even though we don't need it today, and I think people are pretty satisfied with parking, I think we're going to need it," he said.
Commissioner Gwen Welshimer agrees that it is a good place for parking at a reasonable price.
But she said she disagrees with spending so much money when the economy is hurting.
"I don't see that the parking lot will make any profits for us," she said. "It will just be a cost."
Commissioner Kelly Parks said he did not have time to discuss the deal Friday afternoon.
A county report released Friday on the proposed deal says the price boils down to $3.28 per square foot, which is less than the listed price of about $6.83 per square foot or $1.25 million for the site.
The county plans to use money from arena sales tax proceeds, Peterjohn and Unruh said.
The deal also includes land on the northeast corner of Second and St. Francis, making it 4.2 acres in all.
County Manager William Buchanan and Assistant County Manager Ron Holt were not available Friday.
Commissioners are scheduled to vote on the deal Wednesday.
The Coleman building has a storied past dating back more than 80 years.
But its recent history is full of broken glass, complaints and blight.
A walk around the property Friday morning found dozens of broken windows, graffiti inside and out and broken glass on the sidewalk.
Coleman has placed fence with a barbed-wire top around the property. But vandals have cut holes in it large enough to crawl through.
In 2007, a 20-year-old was arrested after witnesses said someone hurled a chunk of cement out of the building and through the rear window of a police car. Other cars were also damaged.
Wichita's Office of Central Inspection has logged 20 code complaint cases on the property, according to Superintendent Kurt Schroeder.
Fifteen of those were graffiti complaints that have been closed. One other case was also resolved.
Code inspection officers started a case on the building at 250 N. St. Francis and at the nearby Coleman building at 215 N. Santa Fe in August 2009. Neglected-building cases were started on the properties in September.
The neglected-building cases forced Coleman to provide a plan of action.
Schroeder said Coleman appointed local representatives who have cooperated with the city. Coleman filed a plan to clean up the property, secure it and sell it in 60 to 90 days.
But they had to ask for an extension when the company asked for more time to obtain demolition and repair bids and the expected sale didn't go through.
The city granted it after Coleman provided a prospective closing date about five weeks ago, Schroeder said.
Earlier this week, Mayor Carl Brewer called the property a hazard, and City Council member Janet Miller said it is an eyesore that people complain about every month.
A storied past
The four-story Coleman building — known as Factory A — opened in 1929.
Local workers assembled millions of the world-famous Coleman lanterns and stoves in the building. In past interviews, former workers said working there had a "family feel to it" and that it helped put Wichita on the map.
The 96,000-square-foot building was retired in 1990, and Coleman moved most operations north of downtown.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, environmental problems at the Coleman site and other properties downtown drew lawsuits and penalties.
The city of Wichita began pursuing Coleman and other companies, including The Eagle, to pay for the cleanup of solvents and other chemicals found in the groundwater and soil downtown.
Several companies have paid settlements.
In 2001, The Wichita Eagle and Beacon Publishing Co. agreed to pay $1.2 million toward the cleanup of groundwater in the downtown area.
In 2006, The Eagle reported that Coleman had paid about $3.8 million, and also paid $1.2 million for the initial investigation into the problem during the 1990s.
It's unclear whether there were other payments.
When Coleman and KDHE worked out an agreement limiting the uses of the site, Coleman requested that it be limited to parking only, said E. Jean Underwood, KDHE's site remediation unit chief.
She said limitations are common for sites like Coleman where pollution is difficult to clean up.
Several approaches to cleaning up the groundwater and soil are ongoing, she said.
It would likely be a time-consuming and costly effort to get the property cleaned up enough to build on, she said.
Underwood said whoever razes the buildings will need a plan on how to deal with contaminated materials that may be unearthed during demolition.
She said a formal remediation plan will likely be presented for public comment in coming months.
"They have a multipronged approach to this," she said.