by Bill Wilson
The Wichita Eagle
June 7, 2009
Posted on Sun, Jun. 07, 2009
Larry Weber has a vision for downtown Wichita because he’s seen it at its lowest ebb.
Weber, the manager of Wichita’s Garvey Center, remembers when downtown was a ghost town, with only the Pasta Mill in sight in what is now Old Town.
So what Weber, the chairman of the Wichita Downtown Development Corp., sees today is nothing but good news, with better days ahead.
“It’s just great,” said Weber. “Jeff Fluhr has brought a new, invigorating spirit, a can-do type of mentality, to downtown.”
Team that, Weber said, with Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer and new City Manager Robert Layton.
“The stars are perfectly aligned,” Weber said. “We’ve got hiccups to work on, but the stars are in perfect position to make downtown happen.”
How long will it take to revitalize downtown?
“I can’t wait to see the plan that comes out of the program we’ve put together.
“And when it comes out, I guarantee you that the 20-year plan we put together will be accomplished in 10 years, when we’ll begin work on the next one.”
Critics say the changes downtown are happening slowly.
“My wife and I spend a lot of time driving, riding bikes, walking. I like to tell the story about how my wife saw the Delano changes. The clock tower, the circle. Why do all this?
“Now, you look afterwards at the dramatic effect it had on Delano. Same thing here downtown.
“You look at Old Town Square, all the infrastructure. The other night we did the sculpture walk with all the new sculptures. To see all those things coming in is something, especially when you realize that when you came here in 1986 even the Pasta Mill wasn’t here yet.”
How’s the apartment business at Garvey Center?
“It’s been fabulous. A waiting list for apartments most of the time. People love it.
“Downtown living is a kick, the most unique thing you can have in Wichita. You can walk to work. You can go up and be in your apartment and just look over the whole world because every outside wall is glass.
“You’re standing there with your cup or your brewski looking down at the world moving below you. It’s like going to the lake every night.”
Talk about how your career led you to this point.
“Willard (Garvey) brought me back as a consultant. He had just gotten control back of the Garvey Center, and he wanted to reopen the old hotel.
“I’d run the thing from 1988 to 1992, general manager during the bankruptcy. I came to Wichita initially to run the Broadview, and I did that and a couple of other jobs before Willard brought me back to run the hotel.”
But it never reopened, did it?
“Willard kind of freaked out. You learned really quickly that Willard was a numbers man. You knew your numbers when you went in to see Willard.
“So I go in one day, he says to me, ‘I want to know what my operating losses are going to be if no one checks in for a year.’ I couldn’t believe it. Didn’t know why.
“So I ran some numbers and figured it out at a million dollars a year.
“You remember the old Sanford and Son routine? ‘Here I come, it’s the big one?’ That was it. We weren’t doing it.”
So how did you get from a closed hotel to apartments?
“Same way. Willard said to find something else to do with the building. He always thought outside the box. Nothing was outside conception.
“So I ran a bunch of numbers, did all sorts of things, and nothing was working out. Finally, we came up with the apartment complex.
“So he brings me back. ‘What are my costs if no one rents an apartment for a year?’ Well, I was already there. Maintenance was already there. Same deal. The answer was ‘zero.’
So Willard said, “Fine. Do the deal.’ ”
What’s the future hold for downtown?
“Just drive down today and look at Intrust Bank Arena. It’s amazing to see where we’re at today.
“At some point, it’s happening so slowly that you don’t realize it, but it’s happening, and it’s so exciting.”