Boathouse open again

With a fresh coat of paint, new windows and re-finished hardwood floors, the Wichita Boathouse is ready for its first tenant in more than five years.

A series of renovations totaling $650,000 wrapped up May 31 and the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame, the new occupant, is beginning to move its collection into the building on the east bank of the Arkansas River near Waterman.

Wedding receptions and other events are already taking place on the second floor, and Ted Hayes, the museum's president and CEO, hopes to have the first-floor exhibit open by the end of August.

Although the building was structurally intact, years of disuse resulted in problems.

With funding from billionaire Bill Koch, the building's roof was repaired, new bathrooms were built, and the interior and exterior were repainted.

Broken windows and vandalized air-conditioning units were also replaced.

"You could see the potential before any of the renovations started," Hayes said. "The windows were dirty; some of them were broken. Those kinds of things. But you come in and you clean all that stuff up, put a fresh coat of paint on it and it's like it's brand new."

The Jayhawk, the yacht outside the boathouse used in Koch's 1992 America's Cup win, also received needed repairs after years of exposure to the Kansas elements. Crews spent two weeks in June patching holes, waxing the hull and refurbishing the mast. They also trained museum staff on boat upkeep, Hayes said.

The museum will be a mix of permanent items along with rotating exhibits from the Hall of Fame's larger location in Newton.

Permanent exhibits include portraits of the hall's 190 inductees, the America's Cup and a replica of another yacht used by Koch, a former Wichitan and a hall of fame inductee, in his 1992 victory.

Admission to the museum will be free, and Hayes said much of the museum's revenue will come from renting the second floor for meetings, parties and receptions.

The building has hosted several events in the past month with 20 more already booked between now and the end of the year. The event space rents for $400 to $2,500 depending on day of the week and time of year, Hayes said.

"Because of the reputation and the view and the location of this building, it's very well known and popular as an event center," Hayes said.

Tempestuous history

For years, the Boathouse was mired in controversy, as the city considered plans to demolish the building and the public rallied repeatedly to save it.

The building was closed in 2004 while construction on the nearby WaterWalk development was taking place.

The city twice requested proposals from businesses on possible uses for the site.

A number of restaurants and hotels offered to take over the building and cater private events there. Others wanted to open a restaurant at the site. A beauty salon was also proposed, as was razing the site and building offices as part of WaterWalk.

In the end, Koch, who donated millions for renovations at the Boathouse in the 1990s, stepped in and brokered a deal in which he would lease the building from the city for $1 a year for 99 years and pay for further renovations to make the site suitable for the sports museum.

The city accepted Koch's proposal because it made the most business sense, said Allen Bell, the city's director of urban development.

"It was a deal where the lessee, in this case Bill Koch, proposed to make extensive renovations at his cost," Bell said. "From a business standpoint, it was the best deal."

The sports museum will fit in with other museums along the river, like Cowtown and Exploration Place, and will keep a unique Wichita building in operation, he said.

"The boathouse... has become a significant landmark in the downtown area," he said. "A lot of people have grown very fond of that venue."