Retailers show little interest in Southfork development

Developer Jay Maxwell said he is having so much trouble landing big box retailers at his Southfork development, at the southwest corner of 47th South and I-135, that he’s considering switching most of the land to warehouses and other industrial uses.

Originally planning to fill the more than 50 acres with big national retailers, he’s put about 30 acres at the south end of the development on the market as industrial ground to see what kind of response he gets from brokers, but said he’s not ready to sell the ground just yet.

The acreage bordering 47th Street would remain as retail, restaurant and hotels. So far, he’s signed deals to bring in Arby’s and an IHOP restaurant. He also expects to put in strip centers and a hotel.

He conceded such a change would be a big disappointment for south-side residents and some local officials who supported the retail development.

He said he would also prefer to develop it as retail because it’s more profitable, but so far the big chain retailers have resisted his pitch for various reasons. They either built elsewhere in the market and don’t want to cannibalize existing stores, or they just don’t see the area as having enough people, he said. He said they may not appreciate how much the development will pull from people living south of Wichita.

He said he’ll give retailers another six or seven months before his switches the south 30 acres to industrial — or if he gets an exceptional industrial offer.

“Sooner or later, I will have to make a decision in life and will have go in another direction,” he said. “Personally, it’s more profitable to have retail than industrial, but everybody loves it as an industrial site.”

The site, he said, is terrific for warehousing because it offers quick access to Interstate 135, I-235 and the Kansas Turnpike.

Ted Branson of Landmark Commercial Real Estate is handling the industrial marketing. Don Piros and Scott Harper with Landmark Commercial are handling the retail.

Drainage issues likely have delayed development in the area, which Maxwell has been promoting for about 10 years, comparing its potential to NewMarket Square, at 21st and Maize Road.

He gained support from local and state politicians interested in sparking some redevelopment on the south side.

In 2009, the promise of economic development there helped win the approval for the $16 million reconstruction of the adjacent crumbling overpass at 47th and I-135. The Kansas Department of Transportation even altered the off-ramp design to provide better access to Southfork.

The city of Wichita approved $1.2 million to improve drainage through the area in 2009. The city and Sedgwick County Commission approved tax increment financing district for it in 2012.

The recession slowed national retail development for a few years, followed by a spurt of large retailers deciding to build in Derby or elsewhere in Wichita.

Sedgwick County Commissioner Tim Norton, who represents the southwestern part of the county and a long-time champion of the project, agreed that south-side residents will be disappointed if much of Southfork is developed as warehouses.

A large retail center would mean that south-siders wouldn’t have to drive as far to shop, he said. And many had hoped that it would help spur more growth in the area.

“They would like to see a nice big retail center there, something that would pump some energy into the south side,” Norton said. “They will be disappointed, no doubt, but I’m still an optimist that, if he’s diligent, he’ll find some good occupants for the area.”

Reach Dan Voorhis at 316-268-6577 or Follow him on Twitter: @danvoorhis.