Hotel Chain's Plan Rests on Boathouse Fate

. October 14, 2008

By Dan Voorhis and Brent D. Wistrom

The Wichita Eagle, Kan.

WICHITA, KS, November 22, 2005. Value Place, the fast-growing Wichita hotel chain owned in large part by Jack DeBoer, is the company seeking a new corporate headquarters where the Boathouse now sits, a Wichita City Council member said Monday. WaterWalk developers, including DeBoer, proposed tearing down the Boathouse and building a four-story, $12 million corporate headquarters building. But the city will consider at least two other proposals that would not destroy the existing building on the Arkansas River. It is soliciting proposals for the property until Dec. 19.

The council will likely make a decision on the future of the Boathouse in January. WaterWalk officials are asking the city to give them the Boathouse for demolition, and lease the site to them for $1 a year for 99 years. The yacht on display outside the Boathouse, which former Wichitan Bill Koch donated after he won the America's Cup, would be moved to a new location, which has yet to be determined.

In exchange, developers say the new building would generate more than $300,000 in property taxes a year. The corporate building would be about 72,000 square feet, with 40,000 square feet devoted to Value Place. About 10,000 square feet would be for a restaurant and a shop. It would be built at the developers' expense.

At least two other proposals for the building would keep the Boathouse. Both Larkspur owner Ty Issa and Hyatt Regency Wichita general manager Jeff Pace say they would like to lease the Boathouse from the city and use it as an event space for weddings, reunions and meetings.

City Council member Carl Brewer, who confirmed that Value Place is WaterWalk's intended tenant, said he would wait until all of the proposals are in front of him before choosing one to support. Because the Boathouse was renovated partly with federal money, Brewer said, the city must formally solicit development proposals and then make a decision in a public meeting. "This will force closure and get rid of all the rumors and gossip," Brewer said.

The connection between Value Place and WaterWalk is strong. DeBoer also is one of four partners in WaterWalk. The chain is spreading rapidly. DeBoer and his partners opened the first Value Place at K-96 and Oliver in late 2003. Now, nine are open, 10 are under construction and the company has commitments for 200 more. The hotels are both company- and franchisee-owned. Value Place is developing a new niche: budget extended-stay lodging. Every property is newly constructed, every room has a full kitchen, and rates at many properties start at $149 a week.

The original Riverside Boathouse opened in 1898 on the Little Arkansas River at the old Murdock Avenue Bridge. It was torn down in 1968. The Arkansas River Foundation revived the idea of a city boathouse in the late 1980s and later raised $1.3 million -- $1 million from Bill Koch -- for the project. The city of Wichita donated the land. The current Boathouse, built in 1994, has an appraised value of $565,000, according to the Sedgwick County appraiser's office. It is exempt from property taxes because it is owned by the city.

The city did not put the Boathouse up for sale. Because a formal proposal has been made for the property, the city is required to solicit other proposals until Dec. 19. John Philbrick, director of property management, said the city has not assessed the market value of the Boathouse building. Now that proposals are out, the city is interested in what changes would benefit the city most, not how much the building is worth. "We want to know what it's going to do for the city," he said.

The Boathouse has been bobbing in and out of debt. Since 2000, it has lost an average of $5,000 a year, according to city records. In 2002, the Boathouse's best year, it made $4,000 for the city. The year before, it lost $17,500 for the city. It is becoming more stable as the city trims utility expenses and receives a steady income for events, said John D'Angelo, who oversees the Boathouse. Without the Boathouse's worst year, it is losing an average of $841 each year."If you look at it from the average side, we're headed in the right direction," he said. "I think the Boathouse can run in a positive manner."

By Dan Voorhis and Brent D. Wistrom

Contributing: Carrie Rengers

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Copyright (c) 2005, The Wichita Eagle, Kan.

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