Sedgwick County land purchase raises questions

Wichita Eagle newspaper stories from summer 2003 tell of the City of Bel Aire‘s plans for an industrial park. Today Sedgwick County may purchase this land from the small city.

This item, described on the agenda — at least I think this is the item — simply as “Land purchase contract” has assumed a sense of urgency.

The Eagle news stories tell how the city of Bel Aire purchased the land in secret, because it didn’t want the City of Wichita to be aware of its plans.

But the important questions are these:

Bel Aire hired real estate developer Steve Martens to develop the industrial park. Recently the Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition says they’ve lost out on bids to attract industry to Wichita because we don’t have ready-to-go land available for industrial development. Steve Martens has been the chairman of the GWEDC during some of the time since Bel Aire announced plans to develop this industrial park.

I’m having trouble forming a precise question based on these facts. But I hope you see how I am perplexed by these facts.

Then, what has changed now that would make us believe that Sedgwick County — a different governmental body, but still government — will have a better experience developing this industrial park?

If the GWEDC has a specific prospect in mind for this land — and that may be a very real possibility — it would be reassuring to hear it say so. I understand that the courting of companies looking to relocate or expand may be shrouded in secrecy by necessity. It’s also possible that we’re being used as a bargaining chip. These are problems for a different day.

What is the plan for future ownership of the land in question? Will the county continue to own it, or will it sell it to companies that locate here?

Is it possible to have the private sector develop this land even if it’s owned by Sedgwick County? We have many talented real estate developers in this area.

5 Comments

  • I’m no fan of government owned real estate; however in this case it makes some sense. If the private sector felt it to be viable to buy a large tract of land, invest in infrastructure, and sit on the land for years waiting for someone to come along (such as Siemens in Hutch) and utilize the site, then the private side would have done so. The reality is that the buy and hold cost of real estate for this amount of land and associated improvements doesn’t make sense for very many in the private sector.

    Even though Bel Aire owned the land, it was not “shovel-ready”. The roads, water, sewer have not been extended to serve the site. That has been the biggest hang-up to date, who should bear the cost of the improvements?

    Going forward, it will be interesting to see if the public sector will engage the private sector to help market the land. Several of the local brokerage firms have contacts that are national and international that can be utilitzed. If not, then all this transacton will amount to will become known as the Bel Aire Bailout.

  • I contacted the County Managers office and was informed that the desired size of land parcel was 10 acres, There are at least 4 sights that size with water sewer streets and railway service just west of 47th and Broadway. I am sure there are many more around the county also.
    Bob your article suggests the real reason behind this deal, and it appears to be business as usual.
    A developer finds a way to become an insider using his position to convince an arm of local government to sell/buy/give
    tax dollars away for a $420,000 commission. And I am sure with enough digging involved there are several options out there on pieces of this ground that will have to be “cleaned up” to complete this deal. Allowing for the profit incentive
    to make this deal worth the effort to try to sell it to the County.

  • Bel Aire bought the land because of the continue threats from Bob Knight and Joe Pisciotte against their city and government.

    Steve Martens’s involvement with GWEDC has been very profitable for him and almost every deal has conflict of interest written all over.

    The City of Wichita is arguing with Sedgwick County on the Bel Aire land deal because they want that land for the city and they also don’t want Bel Aire to sell water to the County. Wichita wants to expand their water sales in order to control economic development

  • “There are at least 4 sights that size with water sewer streets and railway service just west of 47th and Broadway.”

    Actually, there isn’t. Not zoned industrial anyway.

    “A developer finds a way to become an insider using his position to convince an arm of local government to sell/buy/give
    tax dollars away for a $420,000 commission.”

    Mmmm, not really. Land is owned by the city and being sold to the county. Don’t see where there’s an “inside” deal or some kind of conspiracy going on here.

  • “Steve Martens’s involvement with GWEDC has been very profitable for him and almost every deal has conflict of interest written all over.”

    I’d be interested in any factual information that you have, but doubt that you have any.

    “Wichita wants to expand their water sales in order to control economic development.”

    Yes and no. They want to expand their sales as a means to control the city’s ability to develop and expand its tax base while limiting the ‘burbs. Maybe its just semantics.

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