Business Q & A

A conversation with Doug Rupe

Doug Rupe has been one of Jack DeBoer's go-to guys for years in the hotel business.

But late last year, he became perhaps DeBoer's key advisor when the Wichita entrepreneur took on the rehabilitation of the struggling WaterWalk mixed-use downtown development.

DeBoer and Rupe say they're ushering in an era of kept promises at WaterWalk, a development largely hog-tied by political wrangling and economic problems.

And so far, Rupe said he's happy with the progress, which includes breaking ground on a new hotel and several condo sales as DeBoer works toward a self-contained live-and-work community on the river.

"Without exception, I think the comments on what we've done have been favorable," Rupe said. "I feel like we're on the right track and we have a good road map going forward."

What kind of a challenge has the recession been as you try to get WaterWalk going?

"It's a tremendous challenge, and I think that anybody you talk to in this business will acknowledge that we couldn't have chosen a worse time to get started.

"There are some advantages in that when we come out of this downturn, whenever that is, we'll be in a position to be ready to go.

"It is tough right now. We're talking to a lot of people, doing a lot of listening. The recession hasn't prevented people from making calls and talking, but the decision-making process is just extended. The time it takes them to talk with their board and their lender, it's just longer and it lengthens the decision-making process.

"Certainly, anyone in the retail or the development business in Wichita will tell you it takes continued persistence and patience right now."

What role does the current uncertainty surrounding Wichita's planemakers have in those development challenges?

"Certainly, the strength of our local market has a lot to do with how we're perceived by external forces. Any operator, any company, is going to look at the health of our city as a major factor in their decision to come.

"We have to work to strengthen our community from the inside, and I think there are some strong business and community leaders, from Mayor Carl Brewer on down, doing all the right things to do that."

Is tight commercial credit an issue as you court developers?

"I think that the lending community has to shore some of that up. From a national basis, we need more confidence so the lenders who typically provide the funding for development feel comfortable about lending money.

"People around here have really underestimated the difficulty that Jim Korroch had getting his hotel deal (a $12 million Fairfield Inn and Suites at WaterWalk) done. I saw it from my own perspective, saw the calls as he went throughout he process. I hope people appreciate what Jim was able to do to land that hotel."

Why is it important to get people down to WaterWalk to see the redesigned condos and show them the development plan?

"It's visually that people have a way to see what the potential is of anything, from an apartment, a condo, a single-family home.

"It's also true on the retail side, which is why we developed the elevations — so we can sit down and show different developers the direction we're headed."

Why did Jack decide to redesign the condos at WaterWalk Place?

"Before, it was just very difficult to go through a condo and visualize yourself living there without it being furnished and finished. I don't think we really realized that until we got here."

What are the latest condo sales figures?

"Sixteen sold, 30 left. We've sold five units recently. Our alignment with Weigand to market them has been great."

Where are you on the timeline to revitalize WaterWalk?

"I have a good friend who was a Marine Corps pilot. He told me once that when getting his instruction, they were all told to learn the Bold-Faced Checklist, commit the things to memory that you do in the event of an emergency in a plane.

"His instructor taught him that the first thing you do in an emergency is sit back and wind your watch — don't react. Sit back and assess. Figure out the issue and the problem before you push a button and make it worse.

"That's what we had to do: Assess where we thought WaterWalk was, what it could be, create a plan and execute it. We're really at the beginning of the execution of that plan right now."