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Three state agencies close to signing new downtown leases despite city's objections

The former Ryan International Airlines building.WICHITA — Three state agencies, including two that currently are in the Finney State Office Building, are close to finalizing leases for the former Ryan International Airlines building at 266 N. Main.

The Joint Committee on State Building Construction will consider leases for the Kansas Corporation Commission, the Kansas Human Rights Commission and the state Board of Indigents’ Defense Services on Wednesday.

"To my great surprise and chagrin, this committee has no authority to stop this process other than the bully pulpit," says state Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, a new member of the committee. "We can raise questions about the appropriateness of the move ... and hopefully shame them into doing the right thing."

Ward says the reasons the state has offered for why nine agencies need to leave the Finney building, a city-owned property at 230 E. William, "don't seem to hold water compared to the bid given by the city."

He's referring to a new lease rate the city is offering to the state to keep the Department for Children and Families at the Finney building. DCF has more than 550 of the 700 state employees at the building.

According to a Sept. 9 letter Mayor Carl Brewer sent to Gov. Sam Brownback, the city would slash DCF's lease rate from $11 a square foot to $6 a square foot for half the space it currently has. The reduced space is at DCF's request, according to the letter.

"It is my hope, as mayor of Wichita, that the valuable relationship between the City and State can be preserved by a responsible business decision allowing the continued use of the Finney State Office Building as a centralized location for state agencies," Brewer wrote.

Chuck Knapp, spokesman for the state Department of Administration, says it's a "foregone conclusion" that DCF and the Kansas Corporation Commission will be leaving, because the Finney building does not meet their needs.

"Someone could offer you a cardboard box for free, and if it didn't meet your housing needs, you ... wouldn't accept it," Knapp says. "I'm certainly not saying the Finney building is a cardboard box. ... Price isn't necessarily the fact that makes the deal."

In his letter, Brewer referenced a July meeting he had with Brownback after which a new conversation started with DCF about how the city could meet the department's needs.

"However, despite our best efforts, we encountered obstacles that prevented a full evaluation of our counterproposal," he wrote.

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