Bown-Corby could become apartments

Staff writer

A Wichita developer is interested in purchasing Bown-Corby School and spending half a million dollars to create 8 to 12 apartments listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Marion City Council was told of the interest Monday and voted to authorize city staff to negotiate a contract that would pay the city $40,000 cash for the building, built in 1929, and adjoining land.

The contract would include a “right of first refusal” that effectively would void the deal if plans do not materialize, Administrator Roger Holter said after the meeting.

Officials did not identify the developer by name but indicated he had been involved in at least two similar projects in Wichita, converting Sunnyside Elementary and Kellogg Elementary into apartments.

Developers on those projects were Don Vaughn Jr. and Tom George.

A one-bedroom, one-bath apartment with gated parking in Sunnyside is currently on the market for $495 a month, including water and refuse service. A similar unit at Kellogg, near Old Town, is listed at $800 a month and billed as a luxury apartment.

In addition to $40,000 for the building and the slightly more than one block of land containing parking and playground areas, the city, which bought the property for $1 in 1991 from the school district, would avoid $4,205 a year in insurance and $132 a year in taxes.

The price would be the equivalent of $3.63 a square foot for the building.

In presenting the plan, Holter and development director Terry Jones gave no indication the city would be involved in any way in financing the project.

The property currently is appraised for tax purposes at $1,004,640 but has been exempt from most taxation for decades. The two Wichita projects put properties valued at $1,223,700 and $1,057,200 back on tax rolls, Jones said.

Phase I, he told the council, would be an initial investment of $10,000 to take out a dropped ceiling and do other work allowing the building to qualify for inclusion on the historic registry.

Once the project is listed, he said, an additional $500,000 would be invested to create loft-style apartments that would preserve much of the original layout and feel of the building.

The only substantive questions during his presentation came from Margaret Wilson of the Marion Pride Committee.

She noted that Marion City Library chose not to seek listing on the registry because energy-efficient windows could not be installed. She also asked whether the city could insist that the developer hire a local manager for the apartments.

Jones presented alternatives — creation of a small-business “incubator,” renting the building for offices, and simply mothballing it. Projected first-year break-even rents of up to $875.63 per month for incubator space or $2,626.88 per month for two businesses sharing the building were deemed unfeasible, especially with a likelihood of tenants paying $7,849.34 a year in utilities, which he said is what Butler Community College paid before it backed out of its essentially free lease with the city.

The only apparent concern on the part of the developer is that the area currently is zoned to allow only duplexes. Council members indicated a willingness to work even before a deal is done to seek an exception that would allow higher density housing.

The council instructed Holter and Jones to work with City Attorney Susan Robson to prepare a formal contract for consideration July 21.

To be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, a property must retain its historic appearance, be at least 50 years old, and have the potential to be documented as historically or architecturally significant at the local, state, or national level. 

Marion County Courthouse, the Hill School, the Historic Elgin Hotel, and Marion County Park and Lake are listed on the national registry. Marion Presbyterian Church is listed on a similar state registry.

Bid on Arlie’s site rejected

A second city-owned property generated less encouraging news Monday, as the council officially rejected a $160,000 offer from Ditch Diggers Inc. of Salina to purchase the former Arlie’s building and three adjacent lots in Batt Industrial Park.

The $160,000 bid was nearly $75,000 less than the city owes on the property, $100,000 less than its total investment, and $70,000 less than its asking price.

However, officials indicated it was simply an initial offer, and the council authorized staff to continue negotiations.

Before the meeting, one council member noted that the business, whcih already has two equipment storage facilities in Marion County, currently purchases fuel and parts from Marion merchants.

Herington is rumored to have offered an alternative property, and if the company were to move to Herington, much of the purchases it currently makes in Marion could go with it.

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