Politics & Government

Sedgwick County may build a new government center rather than buy. Here's the latest

Sedgwick County government may abandon plans to buy the Riverview Building, shown here, for a new county government center. The county is entertaining at least four other ideas, including building its own building.
Sedgwick County government may abandon plans to buy the Riverview Building, shown here, for a new county government center. The county is entertaining at least four other ideas, including building its own building. File photo

Sedgwick County officials unveiled two possible plans for building a new county government center Wednesday, but commissioners couldn't agree what to do going forward.

The commission had earlier moved toward buying the Riverview Building, a mirrored glass office tower at 345 N. Riverview, to house county government and open more space in the courthouse for the courts.

But some commissioners soured on that idea after county staff calculated what it would cost to buy, repair, remodel, maintain and heat and cool the building for county use.

According to those estimates, the approximate total cost of the Riverview Building would be $15.2 million to $18.2 million for 25 years, depending on the level of remodeling and the cost of utilities.

That puts it in roughly the same price range as what it would cost to construct a new, more energy-efficient building, according to county estimates.

County Manager Michael Scholes presented two possible options for a new building.

Option 1 would involve constructing a new three-story — or possibly four-story — county office building between the courthouse and the jail, and remodeling the courthouse annex, which currently houses the district attorney's offices.

That plan would cost $14.5 million to $18.8 million, Scholes said.

Option 2 would involve buying a city-owned parking lot south of City Hall and building there.

Scholes recommended a parking garage to go with it, but Dennis said he thinks county employees could continue to park in the existing courthouse garage and walk a block and a half to work.

He said when he worked at the Pentagon in Washington, "You'd fight for a parking space within a block and a half.

"Now I know we live in Wichita, where we're used to walking only 20 feet from the parking to our place of business (but) there is not a necessity for a new parking garage down there, truly."

With the garage, the cost estimate for Option 2 was $21.7 million, plus an extra $2 million or so to buy the land from city government. Without a garage, the cost drops to between $15 million and $17 million, comparable with the other two plans.

After nearing agreement on the Riverview Building, commissioners lost enthusiasm when they saw a $4.1 million estimate for remodeling it for county use, plus another $2.5 million in forecast repair costs

Another stumbling block is that the Riverview Building wouldn't have enough open space to expand to a much larger commission meeting room. The current commission room is cramped and small compared to the City Council's chamber.

Commissioners Jim Howell and Richard Ranzau said they don't particularly care about that because the commission seldom draws a crowd too big for the room and it's mostly unused during the week.

A small meeting space "is not ideal, but it's a small concession" if it saves tax money, Howell said.

Commissioner David Unruh, however, said it is something to take into account because the building will be the center of county government for the next 50 years or so and commissioners need to plan for future needs.

"I hate to start off with a compromise and it seems to me that's what we'd be doing," he said.

In the end, two commissioners, Unruh and David Dennis, wanted to dump the Riverview idea and move forward with plans for a new building. The other three, Howell, Ranzau and Michael O'Donnell, wanted to at least keep Riverview in play.

Although the purpose of the meeting was to narrow down the three choices offered by staff, the list grew to at least five options by the time commissioners were done.

In addition to the Riverview and the two potential plans for building from scratch, some commissioners also want to take a second look at the Murfin Plaza building on Water Street. It had been rejected earlier.

And commissioners also said they want to consider the possibility of leasing space in the Epic Center, the tall pointed-top office building across the street from City Hall.

Commissioners agreed to discuss it again May 23. That's four days before their option expires to buy the Riverview Building for $7.7 million, county counselor Eric Yost said.

If the county misses that deadline, Riverview's owner would no longer be obligated to sell the building at that price and a new purchase price and option would need to be negotiated, Yost said.