Business

Can south Wichita be revitalized? Entrepreneur is betting money on it

From left, Philip Meyer, Jeff Lange, Tom Dondlinger and Eric Swenson stand at Lange’s new IronHorse Manufacturing Park on South Seneca near MacArthur.
From left, Philip Meyer, Jeff Lange, Tom Dondlinger and Eric Swenson stand at Lange’s new IronHorse Manufacturing Park on South Seneca near MacArthur. The Wichita Eagle

Entrepreneur Jeff Lange thinks he can remake the south side of Wichita, and he already is taking his first big step to do so.

He is about halfway through construction of a 103,000-square-foot building in IronHorse Manufacturing Park.

It sits on a 54-acre site at Seneca and MacArthur, and he has plans for 600,000 square feet of industrial development.

But, as big as that is, it’s really just the first step in what he calls a 20-year plan to redevelop Wichita south of I-235 and west of I-135 with new industries, homes, stores and hotels. He calls it the CrossGate District.

Lange, 62, has a lot of experience on the south side. He grew up on a farm near Conway Springs and got his start in rural and farm real estate, founding Jeff Lange Real Estate in 1981.

He has invested in real estate across the south side, including mobile home parks, rental properties and industrial space.

In the late 1990s, Lange started A Box 4 U, now Red Guard, a maker of portable and blast-resistant buildings that are now shipped worldwide. Red Guard’s factory is a mile from the IronHorse park at 401 W. 47th St. South.

Lange isn’t afraid to seem different from the multitude of developers who focus on the more obvious locations on Wichita’s east and west sides. He sees plenty of opportunity in the area’s stagnation.

“I guess I’m just a south-side, blue-collar kind of guy,” Lange said.

IronHorse

IronHorse will be different than a typical industrial park, built for manufacturing rather than warehouses, Lange said.

In a visit to the building under construction last week, Lange pointed to the ways in which IronHorse park is aimed at manufacturers.

The front is clad in stone, and it has a steel frame – heavier and more costly than tilt-up concrete wall construction – to support a more intense use.

The building has 30-foot clear ceilings and easy highway access, designed to appeal to out-of-town companies seeking state-of-the-art space.

Because the building is speculative, it was designed for maximum flexibility to appeal to whoever comes by. For instance, the floors will remain dirt until a tenant specifies how deep the concrete needs to be to accommodate their machinery. The size and number of loading docks can change.

The building will be enclosed in another four weeks.

“It’s coming together rapidly,” Lange said. “Dondlinger (Construction, the contractor) has done a great job.”

The engineer and planner is Baughman Company, and the architect is LK Architecture.

Manufacturing means more jobs and capital investment than warehouses, Lange said.

“If we can put 100 to 200 people to work in this building with manufacturing, that is a lot different than an industrial park warehouse that might have four to five people in the same space,” he said.

His aim is out-of-town manufacturers, he said, but he will talk to local companies looking to expand.

Lange said there has been good interest in the project, and he expects to have the entire 600,000 square feet leased, or sold, within three years.

Bradley Tidemann, a broker with J.P. Weigand & Sons, said that’s pretty optimistic, based on recent history.

Almost all the customers for an industrial development at 29th Street and I-135, more than 400,000 square feet, wanted warehouse space, not manufacturing space.

“That shows the market is saying there’s more demand for distribution than manufacturing,” Tidemann said.

“However, there is not much of what he’s got, so he’s the only game in town. I think he’ll be fine.”

CrossGate

Lange is pretty vague about the bigger CrossGate idea at the moment. He doesn’t want to drive up prices on future purchases.

“I have no specific plan,” he said. “It’s more of an evolving story over time.”

Lange has purchased the Kmart Shopping Center at 47th and Broadway and is thinking hard about what will go there after – as he expects – Kmart closes.

Kmart, part of Sears Holdings, has been closing stores for a decade as it struggles with declining sales.

Lange said he has bought land in the area for future development but won’t talk about his plans.

He said he began noticing the large amount of vacant land in the roughly 10-square-mile area south of I-235, such as the acreage under IronHorse, and started thinking strategically about it.

The land is relatively inexpensive and the area has terrific infrastructure, he said. Water and sewer lines are already in, the streets are five lanes, and access to highways is close.

Development will be industrial, but also stores, restaurants, hotels and homes, as determined by market demand.

“In a way, we’re building a community within a community,” he said. “Really, it’s bringing attention to a community that no one’s invested in for 30 years.”

Dan Voorhis: 316-268-6577, @danvoorhis

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