WaterWalk hotel work starts; new era pledged

With several pieces of construction equipment resting behind him, Jack DeBoer promised to usher in a new era of kept promises at WaterWalk.

On Thursday evening, he hosted an elaborate groundbreaking for the new $12 million Fairfield Inn and Suites at WaterWalk, at the corner of Main and Dewey.

He told the crowd of well-wishers that he wouldn't announce any projects or tenants until the deals were done. Since WaterWalk was approved in 2002, its big promise hasn't been matched by reality.

"I love a groundbreaking where the big equipment is already digging before those of us who are lazy get here," he said. "And it's going to continue."

DeBoer and his staff face a tough task: trying to restart the development in the worst commercial development market in decades.

The hotel's developer, Jim Korroch, said those who criticize the project for using city financing don't understand how hard it is to find private financing these days. It was either city help or no hotel.

"This wouldn't have been financed without help from the city," he said.

The Fairfield Inn will fill a niche below the more luxurious Hyatt Regency Wichita and the Drury Plaza Broadview Hotel, now undergoing an extensive remodeling.

The rooms, he said, will cost $100 to $105 a night.

The hotel has helped restore some trust that WaterWalk will happen, said Mayor Carl Brewer.

"It builds some credibility," he said. "But people are still cautious. They want to know what's going to happen next."

What's next is Doug Rupe, WaterWalk's executive vice president, finding developers and tenants to fill out the rest of the project.

DeBoer this week unveiled his design for the remainder of the project. He envisions eight more buildings of upscale restaurants, retailers and offices for WaterWalk.