Politics & Government

Eisenhower Airport hotel decision stalled after last-minute changes raise concerns

An agreement for the city to lease Eisenhower Airport land to a hotel developer until 2069 has been delayed a week.

The proposed lease agreement, which was originally 77 pages, was on the consent agenda for Tuesday’s City Council meeting. That means the council could have signed the agreement without discussion.

On Tuesday, Mayor Jeff Longwell pulled the item from the consent agenda, asked to hold off on a vote and expressed frustration with city staff for putting it on the consent agenda in the first place.

“We really don’t like, in this case, last-second changes that are brought to us,” Longwell said. “And it’s not fair to the community to have last-second changes presented to the council and then ask us to vote on it.”

The council, acting as the Airport Authority, was set to sign the deal with a company called Wichita Eisenhower Hotel LLC, run by Mitesh Patel. It would have leased about six acres at the airport for a new hotel.

But in the 24 hours before the council meeting, changes were still being made, in part because of questions raised by The Eagle. Under the first proposal, the hotel developer would have received a year of free rent that could have cost the airport about $130,000.

The original proposal would have also essentially given the developer control of a second parcel of land, worth $100,000 a year, for 50 years. Forty-eight of those years would have been rent-free.

Victor White, airport director, said Monday that the dates were errant and the second parcel of land had been removed.

On Tuesday, he presented a summary of changes that he said were made Monday afternoon. The Eagle also obtained an updated draft of the proposed agreement, which is 72 pages.

The new proposal dropped the second parcel from the plan, shrunk the size of the leasehold by about half — from 466,000 square feet to 264,000 square feet — and dropped the one year of free rent.

But the new deal also lowers what the developer will pay over 50 years, from 49 cents to 41 cents a square foot. That dropped annual rent payments from $130,944 to $108,715.20.

Longwell questioned White’s motives for making the last-minute changes.

“So the lease that you had originally tried to bring to us waived a year of rent,” he said. “You only changed that because of the pushback?”

“That’s essentially the reason,” White said. “It was just a little complicated. Our intent was we do this with a number of development operations when it’s a hangar or a hotel to allow some period of free rent during the construction period when they do not have any ability to have any income from the property.

“So, it’s not unusual for us to do that,” he said. “And in exchange for the free rent, we actually raise the rental rate to the current schedule of charges for land at Eisenhower.”

The plan involves six acres at 1523 S. Ridge Road. That would be south of Kellogg and west of Eisenhower Airport Parkway.

“We removed the second parcel from the proposed lease agreement,” White said. “We shrunk the size of the entire leasehold by about half . . . to eliminate any confusion about whether there was or was not a second hotel involved in this particular lease. There was not.”

Longwell said he and the council members wanted more time to go over the new agreement.

“I think what we really need to do is pause on this so we can absorb the contract and have a better understanding, and then let the community have a better understanding,” he said.

Draft: Eisenhower Airport concession and lease agreement

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Chance Swaim won the Betty Gage Holland Award in 2018 for distinguished service to honor and protect the integrity of public dialogue on America’s college campuses. He has been a news reporter for The Wichita Eagle since 2018. You can contact him at 316-269-6752 and cswaim@wichitaeagle.com.