UPDATED — For possibly the first time ever, the commercial spaces within the four Garvey Center buildings downtown are 100 percent leased.
However, it may be for the best that the late Willard Garvey isn’t around to see it.
“Willard probably would have terminated me upon achieving 100 percent and told me to come back in three years when the leases were up for renewal,” says property manager Larry Weber, only half laughing.
“That was Willard.”
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In 1997, Weber was a hotel consultant helping Garvey try to turn a former Holiday Inn back into a hotel when the Garvey Center’s property manager quit.
Garvey “told me go sit down there and run the center.”
Weber’s first major lease, which he landed with commercial broker Ted Branson, was with Cessna Aircraft for 33,000 square feet.
“I still remember going up and telling (Garvey) I got it,” Weber says. “He said, ‘Great, what are you going to do tomorrow?’
“He was an unusual individual. Very motivating. . . . Willard taught me well. You just keep going.”
Part of what helped to get the center fully occupied now is that “downtown is really going,” Weber says.
“I certainly am seeing the success stories of people operating downtown and more people wanting to be downtown.”
The apartments at the former hotel building are 98 percent leased.
When Weber took over managing the center, occupancy was at 67 percent.
“It’s an accomplishment for any building to be recognized by the users, the tenants, to get it to 100 percent occupied,” Weber says. “It just shows you’ve got a good price value, you take care of your tenants, and they reciprocate with longevity.”
The two new tenants that make the center fully occupied are the Kansas Bankruptcy Center and American Coneys.
“Did I do that?” asks Norman Douglas, the attorney who started the Bankruptcy Center in January.
“I should get a break,” he says, joking about his rent.
Drayton Alldritt of American Coneys — look for details about that soon — says he thinks it was his lease that got the Garvey Center to Weber’s goal.
“Larry says it was,” Alldritt says with a laugh. “I’ll wrestle Norman for that distinction.”
Douglas, who handles consumer bankruptcies, says the Garvey Center was an easy choice for him.
“It’s kind of the iconic space in Wichita, right?”
Weber says it’s a short-lived success because an Army recruitment office will be leaving 1,200 square feet at the end of this month when it consolidates into another office on the east side.
There’s never an opportunity to kick back, he says.
“Just maintaining, keeping my tenants happy, that’s a 24-7 job.”
Garvey’s daughter, Emily Bonavia, now owns the center.
Bonavia “is very involved in the arts, and we really want to make an arts feel to the center,” Weber says.
There’s a large new mural on the outside of the center, and at the center’s kiva area there’s now something called OpenStudios where artists are moving in this week.
“It’s actually a working artist’s studio,” says artist Elizabeth Stevenson. “The intention is to sort of animate a space.”
She’s done the concept in other spaces and plans to do more of the temporary engagements, in part to help building owners show what is possible to do with an empty space.
“Maybe a tenant can understand what the space would look like with a business in there,” Stevenson says.
With an empty space, she says, “It’s kind of hard to see or feel the energy.”
OpenStudios has use of the space for free for a year, and artists will rotate every three months.
There will be what Stevenson calls a “major kickoff” of the space with the October Final Friday.
Meanwhile, Weber is focused on that 1,200 square feet that’s about to be empty. He can’t let a reporter off the phone without a plea to let people know it’s available.
“I would love to get back to that goal of 100 percent.”