When Boeing announced its Wichita exit three years ago, worries centered on the fate of its employees but also its mammoth complex along South Oliver.
So it was outstanding to see 2014 end with acquisition of the site by local oilmen and businessmen Johnny Stevens and Dave Murfin, whose optimistic plans and aptly named Air Capital Flight Line seem in sync with predictions of a better year for aviation in 2015.
The purchase from Boeing Planning and Real Estate is just a first step, of course. Stevens and Murfin now must find tenants for the 850,000 square feet of “rentable” flight line space and 630,000 square feet of office space.
But their impressive records of business success stir hopes that they’ll find productive new uses for the site that will further Wichita’s economy and aspirations to build on its reputation as a mecca for aviation research, manufacturing and maintenance, and flight training. In recent years Stevens furthered Wichita’s aerospace fortunes by purchasing the Kansas Coliseum for $1.5 million and investing $4 million to transform its arena into a full-scale testing center for Wichita State University’s National Institute for Aviation Research.
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Murfin characterized it as a “civic opportunity” to invest in and market the Boeing Wichita site, which Stevens aptly called an “important asset for the city.” But they also surely see the move as good business – an encouraging endorsement of the local economy’s potential to recover from a brutal few years.
The partners told The Eagle that they will target aircraft modification and repair businesses, aircraft manufacturing and general offices, such as a call center or computer data center. Spirit AeroSystems, formerly Boeing’s commercial division in Wichita, already leases about 220,000 square feet of the former Boeing space for its work on the 787 Dreamliner.
The reasons to hope their timing is right include forecasts for a much-improved market for small and medium-sized business jets in 2015, which would boost not only key Wichita employers Textron Aviation and Bombardier Learjet but also the existing cluster of suppliers and supporting companies and benefit others looking to newly access Wichita’s skilled aviation workforce.
Gov. Sam Brownback said in a statement that the acquisition “turns it into an outstanding economic development asset that can attract new jobs in Wichita and the state,” and spoke of working with Air Capital Flight Line to help recruit new tenants. Local elected officials and economic development leaders should stand similarly ready to assist.
This is not just another property deal. At 413 acres, the Boeing Wichita site is about four times the size of Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom and nearly twice as big as the Truman Sports Complex property in Kansas City, Mo. One of its several hangars can hold three Boeing 747 jumbo jets. The complex has twice the square footage of office space of the Epic Center.
No one in the city or state wants to see such acreage sit idle for long and risk becoming a decaying monument to Wichita’s planemaking past. Praise is due Murfin and Stevens for trying to ensure it doesn’t.
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman