Auctioneer Lonn McCurdy announced "the bidding is concluded" and car dealer Les Eck smacked his fist into his palm in celebration. He had just bought Riverside Airport.
Eck, owner of Rusty Eck Ford, bid $1.65 million for the 200-acre property on the east side of North Hoover Road, between 29th and 37th streets. That works out to $7,500 per acre plus a 10 percent buyer's premium.
All smiles as he received congratulations from some onlookers, Eck said he surprised himself by even bidding and was shocked that he won.
"I got up this morning with the intention of just coming to watch," he said. "I didn't come in with any expectations."
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Eck lives near the small airport and knew Tom Sanders, who owned and ran the airport for years. The family founded the airport in 1953. Sanders died in January 2009 and his family didn't want to manage the airport anymore.
"I liked him," Eck said. "I'd come over here every once in a while and we'd talk. I guess I see it as a chance to direct future development."
He said he had no plans for the airport right away. He's no developer, he said, although he did develop the Mere Ridge development, near 21st and Ridge Road.
There have been a number of ideas floating around for the airport, he said, such as lengthening the runway and building homes around it to make it a fly-in housing development.
"I'm in no hurry," he said.
He owns an airplane, but doesn't use Riverside Airport.
Eck could own the airport as early as next week, but has 30 days. And then he becomes the owner — and operator — of the airport.
When asked how he would manage the airport, Eck hesitated.
"That's something I've got to think about," he said, and then: "Man, what am I going to do? I don't want to manage something else."
The bidding was slow, despite luring more than 100 people — including several prominent real estate developers — out into the hot sun to watch.
McCurdy started the bid for the airport property at $25,000 per acre. No takers.
Then $20,000. Then $15,000. Then $10,000. Then $5,000.
As the price came down, McCurdy got increasingly strident in lauding the property's prospects.
The crowd watched and waited.
Someone took the $5,000 per acre bid. More McCurdy patter, more silence from the crowd.
"Guys, I feel like I'm begging you to make money," McCurdy said.
Then a bid for $6,000. Then $7,000.
"Yes, now $8,000," he said.
"Guys, I thought we'd be starting on the high side of 10. Don't let this opportunity pass you by."
The final bid was Eck's, at $7,500.
McCurdy huddled with the Sanders family inside the small terminal building. Some observers outside speculated that the family wouldn't take the bid.
McCurdy came back, acknowledged the family was disappointed, but declared that the property would be sold — and then scolded the crowd again for not recognizing what a fabulous deal this was.
"This is a piece of Wichita history," he declared. "This is worth more than $7,500 an acre."
More watching. More sweating.
Then McCurdy declared the auction over.
Afterward, some said the price was low, but that few were willing to sit on the land until the market came back. But others said the land sold for a fair price.
McCurdy said that Eck's winning bid was about the going rate for land these days.
The family, he said, ultimately was realistic about the sale price.
"I think they were hoping for more, rather than expecting more," he said.