Business Q & A

5 questions with Jason Van Sickle

Jason Van Sickle is bullish on downtown Wichita.

Van Sickle, 38, is one of the first local developers to step forward with downtown housing projects after the city's comprehensive downtown revitalization plan was completed.

Van Sickle has worked with Old Town developer Dave Burk on the Flats 324 at the old Wichita High School, 324 N. Emporia, and he's got a couple of apartments in south downtown on the development list.

His company, J. Van Sickle & Co., doesn't plan to go away soon.

"I've always believed real estate is one of the soundest investments you can make," he said.

What's the state of the commercial real estate business in Wichita?

"From people I talk to, whether it's architects or people in the construction trades or real estate brokers, in 2011 the phones are starting to ring with more regularity — mostly in terms of the guidelines and the rest of the things the banks have been facing. It's loosening up a bit.

"A lot of the sluggishness right now is due to the overall concerns about the health of the economy.

"Projects that I've been directly involved in or consulted on are tapping into tax credits for historic and low-income housing. With the budget cuts governments are facing on the state and federal level, there's a lot of uncertainty about those programs and whether they'll be there from year to year. That uncertainty is slowing development."

Assess the state of downtown redevelopment.

"There are things happening downtown, projects here and there, but any significant development is going to take time. People need to understand that."

How much time?

"I applaud the city for creating the master plan, but if you look at the development of Old Town, it took a solid 15 or 20 years to come to fruition and get to today's level of development.

"The downtown master plan is a great thing because it gives guides and goals for development, but every single project downtown is going to be a multimillion-dollar deal.

"There are projects happening around the arena, projects on Commerce Street, but it's going to take time to play out the way the city sees it.

"The city council, Mayor (Carl) Brewer, Jeff Fluhr and the WDDC (Wichita Downtown Development Corp.) are putting a lot of energy into it, and I'm optimistic about the overall plan itself. But it's going to take decades for it to look like the drawings and renderings that Goody Clancy created."

What's the key challenge you see to successful downtown revitalization?

"I think the challenge lies in coordinating development efforts.

"Developers are inherently competitive, maverick personalities. Getting them to work in a concerted effort to bring together the master plan in coordination with all the businesses downtown is the challenge.

"The city has this view where they'd like to see catalyst sites with certain types of mixed-use development to spur additional development. Finding the right developer with the right money to spur the kind of other development they're wanting is a tough thing to coordinate."

Why did you choose commercial real estate for a career?

"When I finished my master's at Wichita State, I read a book called 'The Wealth of Nations' that talked about how real estate is at the foundation of a nation's wealth.

"Coupled with the fact I'm the son of an architect (Jeff Van Sickle) here in town and I've worked in the construction trade, I had to make a career choice and saw real estate as one of the best fundamental investments a person can make and the best way to create personal wealth and do something tangible."