December 25, 2012

Ambassador Wichita hotel set to open, dazzle

The Union National Bank building at Douglas and Broadway was a banking destination for decades in Wichita.

The Union National Bank building at Douglas and Broadway was a banking destination for decades in Wichita.

The 14-story building became famous in July 1958 for its first-floor Dockum Drug Store, site of a civil rights sit-in. And then it sat vacant for more than a decade after Slawson Cos. left.

On Wednesday, a Tulsa hotelier’s $23 million vision for making the famous building a destination again will open its doors.

For anywhere from $219 a night to a robust tab of $1,500 for a night in the 1,600-square-foot condo-like Rockstar Suite on the 14th floor, Paul Coury’s 117-room Ambassador Wichita boutique hotel is a place to lay your head.

But it’s also a place for fine dining, a drink after work, a business meeting and a wedding reception — a high-end multi-purpose facility seeking to tap into the residential and office growth in downtown Wichita.

The first night is a soft, invitation-only opening for invited guests so the hotel and restaurant staff can get a night of practice.

The Union National Bank building is a Chicago-style building erected in 1926. At that time, it was the tallest building in downtown Wichita.

The Wichita Ambassador is part of Coury’s Ambassador Hotel Collection, which operates luxury boutique hotels in historic buildings in Tulsa and Kansas City, Mo. Coury recently acquired a historic building in Oklahoma City, and will be building another boutique hotel there.

The Wichita Ambassador hotel has a condo-like feel in its 13 suites plus the giant Rockstar area, the latter the equivalent of four standard hotel rooms. The suite has room for a buffet, and has a refrigerator and ice machine to handle large crowds.

“I don’t know that it is the condo feel we’re going for,” said Michael Frimel, the hotel’s general manager. “More like the master suite feel. This is what you’d like to have at home.”

The Rockstar Suite targets some of Wichita’s most famous guests; Frimel jokes that he’s going to go after Mick Jagger’s business if the Rolling Stones return to town.

Or maybe the Boss, Bruce Springsteen, with the unusual multi-purpose complex of rooms that include unique features, such as a shower room for six, complete with a $7,000 pulsating light and water system.

“It fits a niche that not many hotels do, especially in this market,” Frimel said. “It gives you the ability to host a group, host a dinner, have friends over.

“If I want to entertain, if I want to feel special, if I have 15 or 20 people staying overnight, this is a great reception area.”

Plus it has a view of Wichita at night not duplicated by many locations downtown, he said.

Two of the city’s business and tourism developers said an upscale hotel like the Ambassador is essential to downtown redevelopment.

“As your downtown becomes more national and international, this is exactly the kind of destination that is essential to bringing people to town,” said Jeff Fluhr, president of the Wichita Downtown Development Corp. “And a destination is exactly what it is. It’s more than just a hotel.”

Susie Santo, president and CEO of Go Wichita, said the Ambassador’s niche should appeal to a variety of potential Wichita tourism recruits.

“It really adds to the breadth of our portfolio,” Santo said. “From a leisure or business perspective, it should appeal to the traveler looking for the boutique luxury experience. It’s two-fold: leisure or the meeting planners.”

And then there’s the Siena Tuscan Steakhouse and Bar, with seating for 100 that will be open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s a separate attraction that Coury and managers hope will attract people into the building.

“It’s not Motel 6,” Frimel said.

“But we’ll leave the light on for you.”

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