There are new reasons to be hopeful that WaterWalk's woes are behind it, starting with today's groundbreaking of the $12 million Fairfield Inn and Suites and Jack DeBoer's hands-on management of WaterWalk.
Wichita needs the project to succeed, because WaterWalk is at the heart of the city's riverfront corridor and downtown redevelopment.
Big challenges are nothing new to DeBoer, the hospitality industry giant who founded Residence Inn, Summerfield Suites, Candlewood Suites and Value Place. And his change in involvement at WaterWalk since last fall — from one of four partners to day-to-day overseer — seems to be making a difference. Five more of WaterWalk Place's 46 condominiums have been sold, and now he and executive vice president Doug Rupe are focusing on landing upscale restaurants, shops and offices in eight buildings.
"When it will get done, I haven't a clue," DeBoer told The Eagle. "But I will tell you, you will see continual improvement."
That in itself will be a welcome change.
The multiuse public-private development, on the drawing board for eight years, has suffered more than its share of economic hard times and City Hall dysfunction. The public is skeptical, and no wonder.
But none of that should matter going forward.
WaterWalk will get a big boost when the Fairfield Inn and Suites, which breaks ground at 6 p.m. today, adds another badly needed 131 hotel rooms downtown as of next summer. In the meantime, the Wichita City Council will decide whether to designate the hotel a Community Improvement District. That would allow a new 2 percent sales-tax rate to be charged on site to help fund construction and other hotel costs; citizens can weigh in at an Aug. 10 public hearing.
WaterWalk also is home to the newly remodeled Wichita Boathouse as well as the 5-year-old Gander Mountain store and the Go Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau, Sunflower Title, Fabulous Salon and Gifts, and the Wichita Area Association of Realtors.
As more businesses and downtown denizens claim space in the development, the doubts will fall away and WaterWalk will fill up and realize its potential to be a premier local place to work, live and gather.