By PJ Griekspoor and Bonita Gooch
The Community Voice
Pastor David Chiles of Paradise Missionary Baptist Church has a front-row seat to the explosive building spree on Wichita State University’s Innovation Campus and adjacent private property.
Corporate offices are being built on Innovation Campus and hundreds of new market-rate apartments have been built in the Fairmount area just south of the campus. But some residents feel the development has done little to enrich the surrounding neighborhoods.
Paradise Missionary sits in the middle of a large slice of land from Oliver to Belmont on 17th Street, directly across the street from the campus.
The offers keep coming to buy its land, offers that Chiles says he has simply thrown into the trash.
He has a bigger vision, one that helps the community and helps the church.
They’ve been courted by developers, including one who offered to build Paradise a new church building in another location.
Instead of selling the land and turning it over to the new property owner to do what they like with it, they’re looking for a developer who will partner with them to build senior citizen housing on their empty acres.
While the offers to buy the land are plentiful, so far they’ve only received one offer to partner with the church.
Four years ago, they were working with an Arizona developer on a shared development concept, but the developer died of COVID during the pandemic, leaving the church back where it started.
Wichita developer Bernard Knowles introduced Chiles to that developer. He said he’d like to help the church, but has projects of his own that keep him busy.
“I knew the Arizona developer and thought he’d be able to help. And they were making progress toward that before he got sick,” Chiles said.
He said that plan called for building a new church building on the east end of the property close to Oliver Street and using the remainder of the property for the housing, which he described as “on the order of Larksfield Place.”
With an aging congregation, Chiles says he sees how the community can benefit from a quality, community-centered senior housing project.
It’s an approach that allows the church and the community to invest in itself.
With the church and the land debt free, the congregation could simply sell and walk away with a big check, but its debt-free position allows it the freedom to wait and shop for the right opportunity.
“You can sell property and get a one-time income,” Chiles said. “If we develop the land, we get a revenue stream for generations to come.”
In more simplistic terms, Associate Pastor Dexter Sutton said, “Once you give up the cow, you can’t get no more milk.”
Instead of the developers reaping all of the long-term revenue, Pastor Chiles says the Paradise congregation will be holding out for the milk.
This article was published with permission of The Community Voice.