City eyes lots near arena

02/01/2011 12:00 AM

02/01/2011 12:07 PM

City and county officials have their eye on a prime piece of temporary arena parking downtown — the Easy Credit Auto Sales lot at Emporia and Waterman just west of Intrust Bank Arena.

It's one stopgap to offset what those officials hope is the loss of some key downtown surface parking lots — sooner, rather than later — to retail and residential development.

The idea is to leverage surface parking into shops and condos, while channeling the public's downtown investment into shared public parking garages that service residents, workers and arena event-goers.

The city put some of that surface parking inventory, such as the Spaghetti Works lot just east of Nafzger Park, on the market late last week for targeted retail and residential development.

"We view surface parking downtown as a development opportunity," said Jeff Fluhr, president of the Wichita Downtown Development Corp. "As we move forward, we're thinking that the public investment in infrastructure is what replaces those spaces... through public parking garages."

City officials say they have a lease offer in the hands of Easy Credit CEO Sam Hudson, who announced late last month that the longtime car dealer will move and expand at 3101 S. Broadway.

John Philbrick, the city's interim parking administrator, said Hudson and his attorney, Rick Thompson of Martin Pringle, have not responded to the city's offer to lease about 100 parking spaces on the car lot site.

Hudson and Thompson did not return calls seeking comment for this story.

In a 12-page booklet released Friday called "Project Downtown: Catalyst Sites," the city invited 250 developers to submit ideas for eight tracts deemed strategic assets to downtown's revitalization, several including surface downtown parking.

The city will consider only ideas that fit into its downtown revitalization master plan, which calls for creating more recreation areas, shops, restaurants, offices, apartments and condominiums.

City officials acknowledge that any parking deal at Easy Credit is short-term, given the site's high development potential next door to the arena —"great development potential," according to Wichita commercial broker Steve Martens.

"Obviously, a facility like the arena is going to always need some convenient parking," said Scott Knebel, the city and county's downtown revitalization manager.

"But this issue will happen, we hope, at Easy Credit too when that site develops. We're assuming that if we can get a deal done there, it's short term. We hope to get displaced."

"It's not to say there won't remain some surface parking lots downtown," Fluhr said. "But some of these are key development sites where we can get a greater return on the land by developing it."

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