Developer seals deal to buy Union Station in downtown Wichita

02/01/2013 5:54 PM

08/06/2014 8:35 AM

Union Station, the centerpiece of the city’s plan to redevelop downtown Wichita, was sold on Friday to a prominent local developer.

Gary Oborny, who heads Wichita’s Occidental Management, and his partner Chad Stafford closed Friday afternoon on the historic train station, acquiring it from Cox Communications. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Oborny plans to transform the building into a multimillion-dollar destination attraction, including retail, restaurants and potentially hospitality and office space – a key business generator for Project Downtown, the city’s master plan for revitalization.

“Obviously, already people understand what we have going downtown, see the opportunities we have, and they’re making investments,” Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer said.

“It’s a good day,” said Jeff Fluhr, president of the Wichita Downtown Development Corp., who called the transaction a key in the 2-year-old downtown master plan.

“We have a developer in Oborny with a track record of success in adaptive reuse (converting buildings), and an iconic structure that means a lot to the community,” Fluhr said. “To have it back viable in the community is a tremendous boost to our efforts. This is at the core of creating a strong Douglas Street corridor that will lead to future important projects to its north and south.”

The deal wraps up more than four years of sale negotiations with various potential buyers, including at least one failed deal. NAI Martens of Wichita represented Cox Communications in the transaction.

Oborny’s firm, best known locally for its work developing retail space and converting structures into top-level office space, has been pursuing the building for at least a year.

The announcement was good news to several other city officials on Friday.

“That’s just great news, very exciting news,” City Manager Robert Layton said. “And the best news about this is that the building’s going to be in the hands of a company that’s a proven developer in town. We are very excited about what Gary and Chad (company president Stafford) can do there.”

Wichita City Council member Pete Meitzner said reviving Union Station removes a big obstacle to the revitalization of downtown Wichita.

“It’s an extension of Old Town,” Meitzner said, “literally right across the street. If we are to be successful in the future landing passenger rail, I’m sure the city and the region will have a great partner with Gary Oborny’s group to welcome Amtrak to downtown.”

Wichita attorney Tom Docking, the former chairman of the WDDC, called the building an “iconic foundation” of downtown Wichita’s future.

“That’s just spectacular news for downtown and the entire region,” Docking said. “It is a beautiful facility and a great location to attract tons of people for whatever uses he may have in mind, especially if it can tie into the eventual revival of passenger rail in Wichita.”

Layton said Friday’s announcement will be a valuable tool as city officials continue marketing downtown space, and will be the impetus for further development near the train station.

“This is an extremely important project,” the city manager said. “We’ve seen a lot of important development downtown without that space being renovated or reused already. When we can get Union Station into development, it’s going to help with the Spaghetti Works, the area around the park. There’s an important linkage there that we can trigger.”

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 spring 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 – formerly Tanya’s Soup Kitchen – 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.

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