Business real estate downtown in demand

Steve Wilbur has the "inventory wanted" sign out at his downtown Wichita brokerage.

Wilbur, managing broker at United Country Theurer Auction/Realty at 509 E. Douglas, said Monday that demand is mounting for commercial property downtown.

"We've had a lot more walk-in traffic than I would have expected, people wanting to see what we have to sell downtown," Wilbur said.

"We need more inventory downtown. We sure hadn't anticipated this much commercial activity this soon."

Wilbur has a contract on one downtown commercial site, the old Mastercraft store at First and St. Francis.

And he has two potential buyers — one with a business tied to the arena — bidding for a building at 139-141 S. Rock Island.

"We've got a couple of different parties showing interest, with various inspectors going in and out," he said. "On one (potential buyer), having the arena's a big plus. I wouldn't call them an arena support business, but having the arena there has certainly helped."

Some local brokers said the arena's opening has commercial interest perking up downtown.

"I certainly believe the arena's contributing to people looking more at properties," said Steve Martens, president of Grubb & Ellis/Martens Commercial Group.

"With the nicer weather, the longer daylight and some of the big-name acts playing the arena, people are getting an opportunity to walk around and get a better feel for the properties still available."

The increase in commercial activity downtown isn't surprising, said Stan Longhofer, director of Wichita State University's Center for Real Estate.

"There are opportunities in times like these for people to make a lot of money buying distressed assets from distressed sellers," he said.

"The other piece of it is the arena's now in place, it's settled and people can see what it's doing. Where business was more speculative prior, it certainly can translate into more interest now."

Commercial credit markets are still tight in the Wichita area, Martens and Longhofer said. That's why the potential buyers are mostly owner occupants and investors with cash on hand, they said.

"The owner occupants are still attractive to lenders," Martens said. "And the investors typically have a line of credit somewhere or the cash to make their purchases."

The arena neighborhood was initially plagued by "price disconnect" — or a huge difference between an owner's asking price and a buyer's offer.

"Right now, it's pretty difficult to respond to that on a generalized basis," Martens said. "It's pretty much a property-by-property deal right now."