Politics & Government

Sedgwick County finally chooses to move into former IRS building

Sedgwick County purchased the six-story former IRS building at 271 W. Third St. last year.
Sedgwick County purchased the six-story former IRS building at 271 W. Third St. last year. File photo

After months of arguing, the Sedgwick County Commission decided to keep the former IRS building that it already bought for $5 million.

County commissioners narrowly voted Wednesday to accept the staff’s recommendation that the county has no better option than the former IRS building downtown it already owns for the joint city-county building and construction department and the city planning department.

“Essentially what this means is that we’re going with the 271 building,” Sedgwick County spokeswoman Jill Tinsley said.

The vote ends a months-long process after the county purchased the six-story former IRS building at 271 W. Third St. last year. It now is called the 271 building.

The commission bought it last year, but after the fall election a new commission majority wanted better or cheaper options for the departments.

County staff had been exploring other options submitted by real estate agencies and developers. It was also open to trading the 271 building for another property to avoid getting stuck with a large building with no occupants.

Commissioners Tim Norton, Karl Peterjohn and Dave Unruh voted to stick with the 271 building. Chairman Richard Ranzau and commissioner Jim Howell voted against the staff recommendation.

“Going forward is a priority and this looks like the best option at the moment,” Peterjohn said.

Plans moving forward

Some commissioners balked at a $4.6 million remodel plan for the building unveiled in June. Now the county will find an architect and begin a less-expensive renovation plan of about $1.2 million.

The county will only renovate the first three floors, including removing some holding cells on the first floor formerly used by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The county will not renovate the fourth, fifth and six floors.

“Other than those small movements of walls, the rest of it is going to be new carpet and refurbishing the walls with paint and sprucing them up,” acting county manager Ron Holt said.

Three of the county’s five commissioners have long had issues with moving into the building, saying it was too expensive with renovations.

The county issued a request for proposal asking real estate agencies and developers to find a better home for the Metropolitan Area Planning Department and Metropolitan Area Builders and Construction Department.

Sixteen responses came back last month and four were considered viable, Tania Cole, the county’s project services program manager, told commissioners Wednesday.

But the staff recommended that all submitted options be declined.

Holt said staff looked closely at office space and parking spaces for staff and customers. They also favored a downtown location, a single-tenant building and a building that was available immediately for move-in.

“The big thing there is getting them in one location and putting both (the departments) together so we have a one-stop shop for builders, contractors and tradespeople,” Holt said.

“While some came close, none of the proposals gave us those items to the level that we felt we needed.”

Both sides frustrated

Most current county commissioners either voted against buying the building last year or thought renovating it would be far too expensive. They criticize the decision to buy the building and say the process was deeply flawed.

“We ended up buying a building that was three times larger than what we needed,” commissioner Jim Howell said. “… I still question whether or not we got a good deal on that building: I don’t think we did.”

Commissioners Tim Norton and Dave Unruh, the minority, have long wanted the departments to move into the building.

“I’ve been convinced all along that the former IRS building is a great option for us,” Unruh said. “It has the support of the user of the building and the support of the departments that will reside there.”

Both sides are still bitter over how the process unfolded.

Unruh says he’s long been frustrated about the delays with settling on the 271 building.

“Hopefully, this will satisfy anyone’s objection or second-guessing the decision that was made,” he said. “In that respect, it was worth it.”

But Howell, who was not in office last year, still says the county was bound to a bad decision once it purchased the building.

“If we were truly free to make a decision without regard to the past, I don’t know that we would have ended up here.”

Reach Daniel Salazar at 316-269-6791 or dsalazar@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @imdanielsalazar.

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