Eagle editorial: West bank shows life

Decades after people started dreaming about the possibilities for the west bank of the Arkansas River, there are new signs of life and even competing proposals. That’s an exciting development – but as exemplified by an oil-drilling proposal, the city needs to be careful and deliberative in deciding what to do along this key corridor.

The look of the west bank will change most quickly and visibly with the construction of Value Place Apartments, the $10 million, 133-unit, two-building complex that broke ground Friday on 4.4 city-owned acres at Maple and McLean. It will be exciting to see accomplished hotelier Jack DeBoer not only build on his successful Value Place extended-stay business model but at last put that piece of riverfront property to productive use.

The lease approved last August that makes the Value Place Apartments possible – $1 a year for 93 years – will strike some as far too sweet. But there are no tax breaks or other incentives on that project. And such public-private partnerships help to overcome the complications of developing in the core – and facilitate downtown’s revival.

That’s why the two impressive proposals that the Wichita City Council heard last month for another key west bank site, the southeast corner of First and McLean, also involve incentives such as tax-increment financing and sales tax and revenue bonds.

One group, headed by Wichita developer Steve Clark, would build a $17.8 million, 140-unit apartment complex called the Riv, a gated community with rents beginning at $850 and $900. Developer George Laham and his partners would like the same location for River Vista Residences, a $22 million, 154-apartment complex with rents starting at $970 a month.

The City Council could choose between the proposals as soon as Aug. 6.

Both Value Place Apartments, expected to open next spring, and the development farther north will advance the long-held goals to better use and enjoy the river that runs through Wichita, as well as increase residential housing downtown.

There also are some questions to settle along that corridor, including when the Central Library will be funded and built at Second and McLean.

Then there is the seemingly incongruous proposal to tap into oil reserves beneath Century II via a drilling site at First and McLean. A report in the Sunday Eagle about the oilmen involved underscored – again – the need for City Hall to be thorough about vetting such potential partners, and to do so sooner rather than later.

“The west bank’s time will come,” said an Eagle headline in 1986, over an editorial calling the area “the city’s most valuable undeveloped asset.”

That time, actually coming for years via such projects as Exploration Place and the Keeper of the Plains upgrade, will come closer still when people are able to move into their river-view apartments.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman