A recent Wichita Eagle editorial starts with this: “Seven years into a project that was supposed to give Wichita a grand gathering place full of shops, restaurants and night spots as well as offices and condos, some City Council members and citizens remain skeptical at best about WaterWalk’s ability to deliver on its big promises. … True, the skepticism to date is richly deserved.”
The editorial goes on to report that public investment in this project has risen to $41 million. I don’t know if this figure includes long-term land leases for $1 per year.
In any case, there’s little to show for this investment. Even the proposal for the redevelopment of downtown Wichita from the planning firm Goody Clancy realizes that WaterWalk is a failure:
Indeed, Water Walk might be struggling to fill its space because it has, simply put, hit a ceiling: it is focusing on food and fun, and perhaps there is room for only one such district (Old Town) in Downtown Wichita. The Arena could help in this regard, but until the publicly subsidized Water Walk is a rousing success, it might not make sense to split the pie still further.
With this glaring example of failure of a public-private partnership staring right at us in downtown Wichita, why do we want to plan for more of this? Shouldn’t we at least wait until WaterWalk is finished (if that ever happens) before we go down the path of throwing more public investment into the hands of subsidy-seeking developers?
At minimum, we ought to insist that the developers of the WaterWalk project be excluded from any consideration for further taxpayer subsidy. The WaterWalk development team: Dave Burk, Marketplace Properties, LLC; Jack P. DeBoer, Consolidated Holdings, Inc.; Gregory H. Kossover, Consolidated Holdings, Inc.; David E. Wells, Key Construction, Inc.; and Tom Johnson, CRE, WaterWalk LLC need to recognize their failure and the tremendous amount they have cost the Wichita taxpayer.
Some of these people — Burk and Wells to be specific — are partners in the failed Old Town Warren Theater TIF district. In that case, the city felt it had to make a no-interest (later becoming a low-interest) loan to protect its interests.
It’s a near certainty that the plans for downtown Wichita — at least plans as grand as revitalization supporters must be thinking of — will require massive subsidy. Already new taxes are being talked up. We don’t have a good record of protecting the taxpayers’ investment in Wichita. What makes us think we can change now?