Those who expressed doubts that downtown Wichita would ever rise again may go ahead and eat their words anytime now – or, if they’d prefer, eat a nice dinner at one of downtown’s restaurants before they take in an arena event, movie, gallery opening or club act.
Each week seems to bring Wichita closer to delivering on Mayor Carl Brewer’s 2008 goal of a “pedestrian friendly downtown” with “park and open spaces, retailers, residences, restaurants, office buildings and multiple venues for arts and entertainment.”
So there will be a lot to talk about when the Wichita City Council hears its second-annual report Tuesday on Project Downtown, the master plan that has helped organize and galvanize the rebirth.
As Jeff Fluhr, president of the Wichita Downtown Development Corp., told The Eagle editorial board Monday, downtown saw $100 million in projects completed in 2012, with another $112 million initiated.
Some of the best and biggest news so far came Friday, as Occidental Management closed on a deal to buy Union Station. If Gary Oborny and Chad Stafford achieve their vision – and they have the reputation and experience to do so – the 99-year-old Beaux Arts-style landmark and its surrounding complex will become a destination attraction where people can shop, eat, work and perhaps even catch a train.
Meanwhile, the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception reopened Saturday, showing off the gorgeous results of its 18-month, $17 million renovation. The three-story St. Joseph Pastoral Center next door has further enhanced that block.
Toward the west on Central, the new Robert D. Love YMCA was completed in December.
And the “Block One” project continues to rise right on Douglas, with the Ambassador Hotel open since December, the Kansas Leadership Center well under construction and the reimagined Henry’s building still to come.
The core also saw numerous residential projects completed last year, including Player Piano Lofts, the Renfro and Commerce Street Lofts, with the Lux planned to open in 2014.
To David Dixon of Goody Clancy, the Boston-based firm that crafted Wichita’s downtown plan in 2010, the most impressive project coming this year is Builders Inc.’s Corner 365, a 36-unit apartment building planned at First and Waco. That project, he said, means downtown has reached the important threshold at which developers are no longer reliant on historic tax credits but able and willing to construct new housing.
Dead blocks and problem sites separate the points of pride downtown, and the city will need to be vigilant to ensure there is no sequel to last summer’s string of worrisome Old Town shootings.
So downtown revitalization hasn’t reached the finish line. But it has overcome a historic recession, a ballot challenge to a public incentive for the Ambassador Hotel, some city-county friction and other problems.
And it’s clearly working, as a drive or walk around the core makes clear.
As Dixon said, on his first visit to Wichita in two years, “No matter where you turn, something’s happening.”
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman