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Downtown seeing wave of residential building

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Saturday, March 1, 2014, at 9:21 a.m.
  • Updated Sunday, March 2, 2014, at 7:59 a.m.

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Four years into a plan to revitalize downtown Wichita, the city is more than halfway to its goal of adding 1,500 new residences to the area.

A total of 163 housing units have opened since 2010, according to figures from the Wichita Downtown Development Corp.

Another 667 are under construction or being planned, for a total of 830 new housing units, or more than half of what a 2010 market study determined that Wichita’s downtown needs to meet redevelopment goals. The city had 1,149 housing units downtown in 2010.

It’s been four good years downtown, City Council member Jeff Blubaugh said.

“I think it’s a step in the right direction,” he said.

The 2010 residential market analysis by Laurie Volk of Zimmerman Volk Associates as part of the Goody Clancy comprehensive plan helped trigger residential, retail and commercial development downtown, said Jeff Fluhr, president of the Wichita Downtown Development Corp.

The current market targets two potential types of downtown tenants.

One is a young professional between 25 and 35 years old, someone who “perhaps wants to ride their bike to work,” said Jason Van Sickle, the president of the Old Town Association.

The other target is empty nesters, older Wichitans seeking to downsize and eliminate home maintenance costs while living near entertainment districts, said Rachelle Perry, who manages apartment complexes for Dave Burk’s Marketplace Properties.

Residential offerings downtown range from rentals in the $800 to $1,300 range to six-figure condos for purchase.

“The market continues to show strength,” Fluhr said, “so even though we’re seeing more residents downtown, we’re seeing things like our block in the 500 block of Douglas completely occupied, the development of amenities at the Zehlman and Renfro buildings.

“All of these things fit together well as you bring the residents in. You need the complementary markets in the service industry. Rooftops and retail go hand in hand.”

The completed projects include the Zelman and Renfro lofts in Old Town, new residential spots in the Eaton block in the 500 block of East Douglas and Dave Burk’s Player Piano Lofts.

Van Sickle said a “fundamental shift” is occurring in the type of housing projects downtown: Most older buildings that can be rehabilitated have been – a process known in the business as adaptive reuse – so new building is the emphasis. Some examples include Jack DeBoer’s Value Place Apartments at Maple and McLean on the west bank of the Arkansas River and Jason Swords’ lower-income project at Main and Market across the street from Go Wichita.

Most new residential facilities are filling up within three months, Fluhr said. As of mid-February, one of Burk’s newest properties, the Player Piano Lofts on Douglas near the tracks, had 36 of 38 units filled, with two just opening.

“Demand has been solid thus far, and we’re confident it will hold up as downtown develops further,” Fluhr said.

The future includes a five-year review of the market demand for residential downtown living, part of what Fluhr calls the “living, breathing document that is the comprehensive plan.”

“We’re going to take another look to see how the changes have affected residential demand downtown,” he said.

Fluhr anticipates that as George Laham’s River Vista project on the east bank of the river – the $24 million, 154-unit residential, retail and office complex at First and McLean – breaks ground, more residential building will follow suit.

“That should take us into a whole new series of opportunities with development on the riverfront,” he said. “There are great sites like First and Waco that could yield a mixed-use project. As we continue to make improvements on William, there’s the Allis Hotel site. And Jason Swords’ project at Main and Market, 54 lower-income units, fills a need in the market as well.”

Reach Bill Wilson at 316-268-6290 or bwilson@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @bwilsoneagle.

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