Business

Elaborating on WaterWalk

Artist rendering of the WaterWalk project.
Artist rendering of the WaterWalk project.

Jack DeBoer's effort to revive WaterWalk now has a road map.

This week, DeBoer is releasing his long-range plan for the troubled project in downtown Wichita and said he has had enough success in recent months to merit the public's confidence.

On Thursday morning officials will break ground on the $12 million Fairfield Inn at WaterWalk, slated to open in the spring, and show off WaterWalk's elaborate landscaping.

WaterWalk staff has also sold five more condominiums in WaterWalk Place since DeBoer took over nine months ago. About a third of WaterWalk Place's 46 condominiums have been sold.

DeBoer and Doug Rupe, WaterWalk's executive vice president, are now starting on the rest of WaterWalk: roughly $100 million worth of upscale restaurants, shops and offices in eight buildings.

Rupe said he is focusing first on landing a roughly 8,800-square-foot restaurant in one building, and restaurants and retailers in another building, both on the project's south end.

But, aware of the development's past history of dashed expectations, they won't make promises on how long it will take to finish WaterWalk.

"When it will get done, I haven't a clue," DeBoer said. "But I will tell you you will see continual improvement."

DeBoer was one of four original developers of WaterWalk, beginning in 2002, but it has struggled for a number of reasons and has seen just three buildings go up. Then last year commercial development nationwide went into deep recession.

DeBoer took over the project in October in a cashless transaction with his partners and has been trying to revive momentum.

In their new approach, they are adopting a flexible strategy in hopes of luring new developers and new money. DeBoer said he doesn't expect any more public money for WaterWalk, but that some businesses interested in WaterWalk — such as a corporate headquarters — may merit economic development incentives to locate there.

The development has a unified look and design, but the project has been broken into small chunks so that other developers with smaller amounts of money can participate. Some of the buildings can be built by more than one developer.

WaterWalk officials said they will work with interested developers in various capacities, even helping them find financing.

"In today's environment, the chance of getting enough to do all of it is between slim and none," DeBoer said. "How do you eat an elephant? In small bites."

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