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Union Station future remains unclear

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, April 13, 2011, at 3 p.m.
  • Updated Sunday, Sep. 15, 2013, at 6:36 a.m.

The future of the downtown Union Station complex remains muddy, five months after a group of Wichita-based developers said they were closing in on a deal.

Those developers, who have requested anonymity until a deal is signed, say they've backed off due to financial concerns but remain interested in the property owned by Cox Communications.

But Jay Allbaugh, a Cox spokesman, said Wednesday that the "leading contenders" to buy the property are out and the company is moving on to other interested buyers.

Union Station is considered the epicenter of the downtown redevelopment effort, according to Mayor Carl Brewer and Wichita officials.

Brewer said he remains hopeful something can be worked out with the Wichita group.

"I don't think the deal is dead," he said. "I think they're just backing away from the table and re-evaluating."

The Union Station campus remains listed on commercial real estate website LoopNet for $6.4 million, although at least one deal fell through at about a million dollars less, a figure that city officials think is the current asking price.

However, other interested developers say the property — which would require an extensive and costly remodel to convert it into a retail center — is priced too high to be a viable business venture.

Brewer and Jeff Fluhr, president of the Wichita Downtown Development Corp., say the city will take a look at ways to help developers succeed with a mixed-use retail venture in the old train station.

Of particular interest is a set of financial incentives the WDDC is developing, including a revolving loan fund backstopped by several local lenders.

"It's not the first time I've heard concerns about the price," Brewer said. "I think the 5s are a good figure that Cox would probably work with. But we have no idea who's going to pay that for the buildings."

Fluhr said any redevelopment plan is complicated by the campus' multiple buildings.

"It really comes down to the master development of a site with a number of components, how those interface and how do you help ensure the success of those components," he said.

A deal in 2009 to sell the building to a Clay Center investor fell through in a dispute over parking.

Businessman Phil Frigon's $5.5 million deal to buy the campus fell through when he failed to lease parking to the city for Intrust Bank Arena.

The building went on the market in the spring of 2008, about a year after Cox vacated the building for bigger offices at 901 George Washington Blvd.

Also included are the old Rock Island depot and baggage facility and the old Wichita Grand Hotel, once occupied by Sullivan Higdon and Sink before becoming Cox Media.

The Rock Island depot, designed by J.T. Long, was built in 1887. Union Station opened March 8, 1914.

Train traffic ended at Union Station in 1979. The building sat empty until December 1982, when Multimedia Cablevision bought it and spent $3 million on an office remodel.

Reach Bill Wilson at 316-268-6290 or bwilson@wichitaeagle.com.

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