DeBoer Changes Development Strategy at WaterWalk

DeBoer Changes Development Strategy at WaterWalk

Wichita Business Journal -by Chris Moon

In his first major move as primary developer of the downtown WaterWalk project, Wichita businessman Jack DeBoer says he is open to finding development partners to buy up ground in the struggling mixed-use tract near the Arkansas River.

The new strategy would allow other developers to buy a portion of the land and — with their own architects, contractors and bankers — develop it within the confines of the development’s master plan.

NAI John T. Arnold Associates Inc. is the exclusive listing broker for the property. A price hasn’t been established.

“He’s absolutely a doer,” John T. Arnold President Marlin Penner says of DeBoer. “I wanted to work with him. When we sat down and started talking about his objectives and his investment, I felt like his program was exactly on track.”

DeBoer recently bought out WaterWalk partners Dave Burk and Dave Wells to secure a majority stake in the 7-year-old development, which comes with a $40 million investment from the city of Wichita.

Previously, WaterWalk developers had been trying to secure leases for tens of thousands of square feet of yet-to-be-built retail and entertainment space. The development partners planned to finance and then build the space and lease it. But that work has been slow, particularly so as the economy has struggled during the past year.

Penner says the development philosophy now is much more inclusive.

“That is probably one of the things that enticed me the most and wanting to be involved myself. It’s that openness,” he says.

The strategy isn’t unlike the Waterfront development in east Wichita, where third-party developers were able to buy ground and develop it. Office developers Paul Jackson and Casey Bachrodt have their own projects within that development. Jackson is leasing office buildings there while Bachrodt is developing buildings and selling them to users.

WaterWalk could shape up in the same fashion. Looking for development partners could help the project secure tenants who otherwise may be out of reach.

“I don’t think we have the corner on the market in terms of any smarts on this thing,” says Doug Rupe, who is overseeing the project for the DeBoer-owned Consolidated Holdings. “We realize there are a lot of talented people in Wichita who have those relationships.”

Penner says WaterWalk has struggled from the perception that one would be shut out if he wanted to use his own architect or contractor for work at the development.

“There’s a lot of latitude there,” Penner says. “There will be oversight over the development for quality issues.”

He also says there will be “fitness” controls as well. The development won’t allow some types of businesses, for instance.

Steve Clark, who co-developed the Waterfront, says selling off parcels to other developers is helpful in bringing in another partner with expertise in one area, such as office, even if it might mean giving up some potential profit. He says the overriding concern for him as a developer is that a project is successful.

Several factors play a role in a developer’s decision to sell off ground, from how busy his own company is with other projects to who the development partner would be, Clark says. He noted Jackson, a successful office developer in east Wichita who has constructed three large office buildings at the Waterfront.

“You need people involved like that, in my opinion, to be successful,” Clark says.

He expressed confidence that DeBoer could turn WaterWalk around — if anybody could.

“Jack has got a tremendous amount of experience,” Clark says. “I don’t envy his job, just based on where we are with this terrible national economy.”

Some developers privately questioned how WaterWalk ground would be priced and whether it would be low enough to attract outside developers. But there was a sentiment that the change in direction at the development couldn’t hurt, given the struggles WaterWalk has undergone in recent years.

One developer was at least willing to take a look at the project.

“Would we be open? We’re open to looking at anything,” says Gary Oborny, of Occidental Management, which has developed office and retail across the Wichita metro. “We’ll take a look at any possibility on any project. And we will evaluate the likelihood of whether it’s feasible or not. We look at a lot of projects.”