Increased Development Brings New Life to Wichita’s Core

by Kristin Harlow

Like many U.S. cities, Wichita’s downtown has experienced an unprecedented revitalization in recent years, with new development and the reimagining of older structures. Growth in the core is not slowing anytime soon if current projects under construction or on the drawing board are any indication.

A number of projects, revolving around a new baseball stadium, are poised to inject new life into the historic Delano District. Plans for a new performing arts center are under discussion, and major mixed-use developments and public improvement projects along East Douglas Avenue are positioned to enhance the link between Delano and the city’s Old Town district.

Tom Johnson, NAI Martens

According to the organization Downtown Wichita, more than $1 billion has been invested in the urban core in the last 10 years, $631 million of which was private investment. The city center has retained a number of high-profile businesses after a decade of notable companies relocating to northeast suburban office locations.

Project pipeline

Following the recent addition of more than 800 apartment units in and around the central business district, commercial activity is on the upswing. The Spaghetti Works District, expected to be completed this fall, is a $23 million mixed-use development led by TGC Development Group and Sunflower Development Group. The former Spaghetti Works restaurant building, which sat vacant for 15 years, has been converted into 41 upscale apartment units, while 60,000 square feet of Class A office and retail space is under construction.

Located at East Douglas Avenue and St. Francis, it will be the gateway from Old Town and the $54 million renovation of Wichita’s Union Station to Intrust Bank Arena. Anchor tenants include Martin Pringle law firm, Eric Fisher Salon and HomeGrown Daytime Eatery. Adjacent to the development is a $3.5 million renovation of Wichita’s historic Naftzger Park as a gathering place and supporting event venue.

TGC has also announced plans for a 74,000-square-foot building that will be the new home of IMA Financial Group. The development, just a block from the Spaghetti Works District, will be at the corner of Douglas and Emporia. A 109-year-old building, which most recently held Mead’s Corner coffee shop, will be demolished to make room for the $22 million structure.

With the Spaghetti Works project, IMA building, a new Hilton Garden Inn and the recent completion of the 188,000-square-foot Cargill Protein headquarters, East Douglas has experienced its fair share of development activity. However, a significant amount of activity has focused on the areas around the Arkansas River and the Delano District to the west.

Last year saw the completion of the $38 million River Vista Apartments and the $37 million Advanced Learning Library. This year, attention has turned to the new home of the New Orleans Baby Cakes (new name to come), a Triple A franchise relocating to Wichita. Lawrence-Dumont, which was built in 1934, was demolished in November to make room for the new $80 million stadium. In mid-March, the city council and Wichita Riverfront LP approved an agreement for a four-acre commercial development adjacent to the stadium, with a 30,000-square-foot first phase of retail, restaurant or hospitality space required to be built by 2022.

Riverfront Village, to be developed by a local team with a history of successful urban projects, will be located adjacent to and north of the new baseball stadium. While the vision for the seven-acre development is still preliminary at this stage, Riverfront Village could include bars and restaurants, entertainment, retail, offices and living space.

In the Delano District, EPC Real Estate Group and Delano Partners LLC are developing seven acres south of the new library. When completed, the $40 million project will bring 200 apartment units, an 85- to 100-room hotel and 5,000 square feet of commercial space to the area along McLean Boulevard and Sycamore Street.

Future endeavors

With these west bank developments coming together, the city is beginning to address another opportunity — the future of Wichita’s performing arts and convention center, Century II. A citizens advisory committee recently recommended building a new performing arts center as opposed to renovating the mid-century dome building. However, the committee did not suggest demolishing Century II.

Some see the structure as an iconic part of Wichita’s skyline in need of preserving; others think its usefulness has run its course and believe a state-of-the-art facility is required to bring attractions to the city. Whatever the decision, Wichita’s riverfront will certainly see major changes in the coming years.

A healthy downtown is vital to a strong community. Over the last decade, Wichita has experienced a transformative change, not only in the amount of development activity but in a community-wide attitude towards its central city. The contributions of small projects like a pop-up park or a gallery alley to more significant and diverse housing alternatives and mixed-use projects are all important.

This surge of activity has followed the urban pioneers of a few years ago and downtown has become a destination for millennials and empty nesters alike.

Sound public policy, historical tax credits, development incentives, including an Opportunity Zone district for downtown and private market forces, among other influencers, have all contributed to a more robust environment.

The return on this recent investment can be seen in Wichita’s increasing ability to attract and retain young talent — one of the core elements of the community’s economic development platform.

— By Tom Johnson, President, NAI Director, NAI Martens. This article originally appeared in the May 2019 issue of Heartland Real Estate Business magazine.

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