The Greater Topeka Partnership, which includes Downtown Topeka, Inc. and the Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce, are in support of renovating of the Docking Building, the state said at a committee hearing Wednesday.
DeAngela Burns-Wallace, Secretary of Administration, said she has been in talks with local business leaders, who are now in full support for the renovation.
Curtis Sneden, president of the Chamber of Commerce, confirmed such.
“We are supportive of a plan that will return the Docking State Office Building to its proper place as an important facet of downtown,” he said.
The Docking State Office Building, a 62-year-old 12-story high-rise adjacent to the Capitol, had long been neglected and plagued with issues. Former Gov. Sam Brownback had pushed to tear down the building, which was ultimately rejected.
Now, the next state legislature will be considering four proposed options in renovating the building. The one path the state administration backs is a complete renovation of the entire building in addition to implementing a Kansas Department of Health and Environment lab.
The other options are without the lab, or stripping everything but the first three floors and adding three floors with or without the lab. Renovation could cost up to around $154,556,000, per estimates.
Burns-Wallace told legislators that the administration’s hope is to have the building house one or two of the bigger state agencies, along with KDHE.
She also brought up the possibility of having some conference space, which could be divided into smaller rooms or simply serve as a large hall.
Whatever proposal lawmakers approve, the Partnership will support, said Sneden.
“While we are not wedded to any particular outcome, some of what we’ve seen is exciting, because it would be new types of activities on that corner,” he said. “Maybe it would be a type of outdoor event space, maybe some training rooms, …shared conference centers, that sort of thing. All of those things strike as excellent possible uses that would be complimentary to downtown.”
Renovating the building will be important for the state, Burns-Wallace said, as employees start coming back into the office amid the pandemic.
“What has happened is… agencies are beginning to come back in. We did a space study last year [and] there are multiple things going on with the current space,” she said. “Our space is not optimized. Sometimes it’s not enough space but we need different space.”
While not opposed, the Partnership initially had some reservations with renovating the Docking building. The state had scattered about 1,000 state employees to different locations in Topeka after signing long-term leases for office space in hopes the building would be demolished.
Downtown Topeka, Inc. said it had wanted to make sure those employees stayed in the downtown area as much as possible. But with the building being renovated, there was some concern.
“We wanted to make sure office space they relocated to are not negatively affected,” said Vince Frye, president of Downtown Topeka, Inc.
The governor’s administration, after discussions, has currently ensured them that will not be the case and the business groups are confident going forward, Frye said.
“We’re not trying to flood the market,” said Burns-Wallace. “We weren’t trying to run out of every lease we” were in.
If renovated, the building will be a huge benefit to the downtown area, Sneden said. The Partnership didn’t have numbers on economic impact when asked, but said with investments, it would be a sure positive.
“Any activity that involves redevelopment of a property in downtown and brings good-paying jobs downtown… to us is a win,” Sneden said, adding that the KDHE lab would bring high-skilled workers, as well as companies supporting the lab, to the area.
“Certainly having more workers downtown who come out for lunch when they patronize downtown restaurants, yes that’s a win,” he said. “It might mean more individuals who are in the market for residential space downtown,” which Sneden said they’ve been pushing for.
Whether anything is final will have to wait, but the group is keeping a close eye.
“We’re anxious to see what’s going to happen in the next legislative session,” said Frye.