Carrie Rengers

Businessman Rodney Horton finally is ready to put Shift Auto Society into drive

For two years, people have been driving past Waterman and Market and wondering about what’s going on at the building on the southeast corner.

Stylish cars — currently three colorful Lamborghinis and a Porsche 917 with Gulf racing stripes — have been appearing in a windowed showroom.

Other fancy and interesting cars, such as a 1959 dragster, have been seen going in and out of the building.

Then a Shift Auto Society sign appeared on top of the building, which raised more questions.

Now, with a Saturday open house, owner Rodney Horton is ready to provide some answers.

“It’s just kind of a country club for car guys,” he says.

Members can store their vehicles at Shift, but for Horton, there’s a bigger social aspect to the club.

“The power of Shift really isn’t parking a car,” he says. “It’s really the deals and the stuff that’s going to come out of this place, and I’ve already seen that happen.”

Horton, a native of Yates Center and what he calls a “motorcycle family,” has always loved cars and motorcycles. He was the kid with a Lamborghini poster hanging in his room.

He graduated from Wichita State University with a philosophy degree but went to work in IT and, now, as sales director for the IT company ConvergeOne.

Through the years, he’s collected cars — he has 12 of them along with seven motorcycles — and enjoyed the car club culture.

However, the storage facility he was using for his cars was a lonely place, Horton says, even though other car owners had stalls. It was hard to see one another, he says.

“I’m calling guys, ‘Hey, are you here?’ ”

Horton also tried a fairly low-rent model for car storage.

“I had a little shop kind of down in the hood where I was storing a couple guys’ Lamborghinis and Vipers, and I mean this is gravel road, slide the gate open in the dark, not a good storage, but these guys liked hanging out. . . . And I thought, you know, I could do this better.”

He says he thought about the building at Waterman and Market that he’d been driving past for years.

“I’ve stopped at that light and looked in the showroom a thousand times myself, and I was like, man, that’s the building,” Horton says.

“In 1947, it was built as Dick Price Motors, which was a Lincoln-Mercury dealership, so this is a showroom that was built for cars, which is kind of cool to bring it back to its essence.”

Most recently, another car business, Clutch Rod and Custom, was in the space, but many downtowners remember it as the one-time home of Ray Event & Tent Rental.

Horton spent two years converting the 36,000-square-foot building into what he calls a luxury car storage facility and clubhouse.

He already has 20 members and has room for about 80 vehicles.

Storage starts at $150 a month for a motorcycle and $275 for one car in Shift’s basement.

There are lifts on the main floor that allow a member to store two cars for $425.

Members have already requested to share the lifts, so Horton created a “buddy lift deal” for $500.

There’s on-site detailing or members can wash their own cars or do oil changes or tire rotations.

There are individual social memberships for $75 a month, which allows car enthusiasts — or anyone else — to use the space 24 hours a day. There are also corporate memberships for $100 a month, which come with two access cards.

There are TVs, lockers, a kitchen, comfortable chairs and sofas, and eventually there will be a rooftop patio.

“People are starting to use it the way I’ve kind of envisioned,” Horton says.

He and others gather to watch Formula 1 races on Sunday or football games, and Horton often will bring in food.

Others have used Shift’s conference room for meetings.

Members also can use Shift for parking during events at nearby Intrust Bank Arena.

“This becomes kind of the arena after-party place, I’m starting to see . . . just because of proximity,” Horton says.

He also owns Cana Wine & Cocktails at the Petroleum Building a block away, “so that’s kind of convenient, too.”

Shift doesn’t have any employees. Members have electronic cards to enter the building, and when they open or close doors, there are timestamps to show who has done what.

“I’ve got a couple of retired guys who are kind of like the little mayors already; they’re here all the time,” Horton says.

“So I think it will all kind of build its own little society. . . . It really is kind of a social club.”

He says that will be especially great in the winter when there aren’t any car shows and normally “everybody’s in their own little garage.”

Horton says members are sharing discounts among their businesses as well as doing some serious networking.

For instance, someone was looking to sell a high-end Corvette for no less than $100,000. He stopped in Shift where someone knew someone else who already had two of those cars. One call later, there was a sale.

“Ten minutes, this guy made 100 grand,” Horton says.

In addition to remodeling the space — replacing plumbing and electrical, tearing out ceilings — Horton says one of the hardest things about getting Shift open was legally structuring the membership organization.

“I learned a lot about members-only clubs,” he says.

Horton says Fidelity Bank, which is building a 505-stall parking garage just north of Shift, and the Small Business Administration were great partners.

Requests are already coming in for Horton to recreate Shift in other places.

“I’ve got a member from Kansas City who’s like, ‘Dude, how can we get this in Kansas City?’ I’m like, I don’t have my arms around this thing.”

He’s getting closer, though.

Though he’s not 100 percent done with the space, the open house will be from noon to 5 p.m. on Saturday with food and drinks, including some Shift-branded beer from Walnut River Brewing.

“It’s not a membership drive,” Horton says.

He says that’s happening organically, and he thinks that’s probably best.

Horton simply wants to answer all the questions he’s been getting and introduce the space to people who may want to be a part of it.

There are different classes of collectors who are using the storage.

“I’ve noticed other guys that are just rotating their collection through just for conversation more than anything,” Horton says.

He says he’s not looking to make money but to simply pay for the building.

“This is kind of a cool little passion project, give-back-to-Wichita kind of thing.”

Though his space is limited to 80 vehicles, social memberships are endless.

“That can keep me growing.”

Horton says he’s already seen the benefit of the clubhouse socializing where members might share a drink and “next thing you know, we’re either twisting wrenches or we’re going off to eat together.”

“You know, it’s just kind of a fun deal. And that’s what I really wanted to have.”