Construction starts on leadership/conference center on Douglas in downtown Wichita

07/25/2012 5:00 AM

07/25/2012 6:03 PM

City, county and state dignitaries broke ground Wednesday on downtown Douglas’ first new building in 38 years, part of the first redeveloped, rebranded block in the city’s master plan.

“Block One” is the first to be redeveloped under Project Downtown, the blueprint for revitalization in the heart of Wichita.

On Wednesday morning, ground was broken for one piece of that redevelopment: the 36,000-square-foot, $8.6 million Kansas Leadership Center and Kansas Health Foundation Conference Center, on the parking lot adjacent to the foundation headquarters at 309 E. Douglas. “Block One” incorporates the Ambassador Hotel; the Slawson Companies retail and office renovation of the old Henry’s building; and the $7.5 million, city-financed parking garage and urban park just south of the KLC.

Construction should be complete in about a year. The OPUS Group, Kansas City, is the project’s design-build firm.

“It’s a big day,” said Steve Coen, president and chief executive of the Kansas Health Foundation. “As we started looking at the best plan, especially since the city built a parking facility here, it made sense for us to build on this location because we can share the meeting facilities. The foundation brings people together a lot, too, and this way we can both share this fine facility.”

The three-story building is expected to attract 1,000 visitors annually from across Kansas. It will include meeting facilities for health foundation grantees, a town hall meeting space with seating for 200 arranged in a half-circle, offices for the KLC staff and classrooms.

The third story of the building will remain unfinished pending future expansion.

Ed O’Malley, president of the KLC, characterized the new building as a “space that allows Kansans – current Kansans, future Kansans – to have meaningful conversations to address our complex challenges that prohibit our state from being the strongest state it can be.”

Some of the programs featured by the KLC in the new facility will include the Kansas Community Leadership Initiative summit, the Academy for Team Leadership, Leadership and Legacy in the Statehouse and the Art and Practice of Civic Leadership Development.

The conference center, the first new building on downtown Douglas since the construction of the Bank of America Building, also is a chance for city officials to rebrand the block, which they call their “outdoor laboratory” for downtown redevelopment.

“It’s a benchmark because with an entire city block there is now the culmination of new construction, adaptive reuse, and the public sector playing its role,” said Jeff Fluhr, president of the Wichita Downtown Development Corp. “It’s a model that works.”

All of the projects in the block will use the new brand in their names: The Ambassador Hotel at Block One, as one example.

“Now, today, with this investment in the core of our downtown, we’ve got a place where we can walk prospects and say, ‘This is what we wanted to do with our master plan,’” Fluhr said.

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