Downtown buildings may become a school
UPDATED – Sudha Tokala, the pharmacist and nascent developer who has been on something of a downtown building buying spree, has purchased another property and is now sharing a small glimpse into her $125 million plan for four buildings.
“I bought these buildings to start an educational institution,” she says.
Sutton Place at 209 E. William St. is Tokala’s latest purchase. She also owns the former Henry’s building at 124 S. Broadway, Broadway Plaza at 105 S. Broadway and the former Finney State Office Building, which is two joined buildings at 130 S. Market and 230 E. William. The buildings are clustered in one area of downtown.
Tokala isn’t sharing a lot of details yet, but she says her nonprofit will “be a mix of everything” in its educational offerings.
The main focus will be a health science center – not a medical school – that would help train people to enter various parts of the medical industry.
“I see a lot of teenage kids in the U.S. that I feel need more options, especially in Wichita,” Tokala says.
“It’s my way of giving back to the community.”
Tokala says it will have to be a community effort to raise the $125 million to renovate the buildings.
“Anything that’s educational and nonprofit, it’s going to be a community effort, so we’re hoping the community comes together, and we can raise that much,” she says. “It’s not a done deal yet. We don’t have the money raised.”
She has commitments for some of the money, but so far Tokala says she’s spent only her money to buy the buildings.
The former Finney building will hold the educational institution. Sutton Place likely will be for residential use tied to the school. The buildings are connected across William with an overhead walkway.
Broadway Plaza may be residential or office space.
At, the former Henry’s building, Tokala plans something for all of Wichita: a food hall. That’s an indoor food market with all sorts of vendors. Tokala describes it as a version of Pike Place Market in Seattle.
Tokala says the first class at her school will not be for four years. She has to renovate the buildings, set curriculum and get accreditation.
“It’ll take that long,” she says. “It’s a lot of buildings.”
Simply acquiring the buildings has been a challenge.
Sutton Place and Broadway Plaza, Tokala’s two most recent purchases, were two of the last three buildings that were “condoed” by Real Development.
That was the group of Minnesota developers who began buying downtown Wichita properties in 2004 and started selling many of them floor by floor, which wasn’t previously a common practice here.
The developers bought a dozen downtown buildings, doing some renovation and bringing in investors before most of their financial arrangements collapsed among foreclosures, lawsuits for unpaid bills and a fraud case, which was related to the buildings that were sold floor by floor.
Though the Minnesota Guys, as they were known, had no remaining properties, they left several buildings with divided ownership.
Sutton Place had four owners, and Broadway Plaza had six.
“That was just a challenge,” says Craig Simon, a Landmark Commercial Real Estate broker who handled both sales for the owners.
He says Sutton Place in particular “was kind of a hodgepodge mess” with one owner who wasn’t especially cooperative with the others on the sale.
“I kind of joked with people … I felt more like a family counselor than I did a real estate person,” Simon says.
He says it was a lot of people to keep happy and a lot of signatures to get along the way.
“It’s just a difficult deal bringing a building back to one owner.”
Simon says the Orpheum Office Building is now the only remaining former Real Development building that was divided into multiple owners.
Sutton Place is now empty. All of the tenants have been relocated, some to Broadway Plaza.
Tokala says she’s not interested in purchasing more buildings at this time. She’s focusing on the school. She’s not yet sure how many students it might accommodate or what the name is.
“We’re still deciding what it would be.”
Tokala says she’ll share more information in a month or two.