This article was originally published by the Wichita Business Journal newspaper on March 29, 2018

Wichita downtown association president calls for neighborhood watch program

By Bryan Horwath

Downtown commercial property manager Istvan Tamas thinks one remedy could potentially go a long way toward curbing what is seen by some as a safety issue in Wichita's core.

"I'm a true believer that these vacant buildings downtown become hubs of crime," said Tamas, who works for Weigand-Omega Management Inc., during a Downtown Neighborhood Association meeting Wednesday. "The building at 150 N. Main is one of those examples where there's been fires, stabbings and people trying to get in there."

Close to 80 attended the associated meeting, which comes on the heels of an attempted assault of an 18-year-old female jogger along the Arkansas River in downtown Wichita on Monday.

Much of the meeting centered on the homeless population in downtown Wichita and what businesses and residents can do to mitigate issues that crop up. Tamas and others think more focus on vacant buildings might help.

"We've got the right police leadership, they just need more resources," said Jason Van Sickle, a downtown developer and president of the neighborhood association. "One of the things our police chief did when he came here was create a nuisance ordinance that said if you're a property owner and you're leaving your building abandoned, causing the police and fire departments to be called out, we're going to start charging for our time."

"We'd like to see that ordinance upgraded and made stronger."

The 150 N. Main building, formerly home to Commerce Bank and then the Workforce Alliance of South Central Kansas until it left for a new Wichita location in 2013, has been the site of numerous emergency calls just in the past year. In July, it was the site of two separate fires that occurred just days apart, at least one of which was ruled as a case of arson.

According to state records, the building is owned by a group called Greiffenstein Revelopment LLC out of Olathe. Van Sickle, the former president of the Old Town Association, said some things that have worked to help curb crime in Old Town might work in other areas of downtown.

"All of us who live or work downtown know the ongoing struggles with aggressive panhandling, vagrancy, and people who camp out or loiter near businesses," Van Sickle said. "We have to have residents and business owners working directly with and communicating with our police."

"As a neighborhood association, we're going to come together to create a neighborhood watch-type program because our police department doesn't have the resources right now."

Van Sickle added that he thinks it's time for a downtown Wichita Police Department bureau, stating that he believes the soon-to-be vacant library building near Century II would make a great location.