April 21, 2013

Wichita developer ready to start moving on plans for Union Station

Downtown Union Station’s new owners see a $25 million to $50 million bustling complex in a couple of years with a variety of restaurants, offices and retail shops.

Downtown Union Station’s new owners see a $25 million to $50 million bustling complex in a couple of years with a variety of restaurants, offices and retail shops.

Almost three months after Gary Oborny’s Occidental Management closed on the historic train station dubbed the key to downtown revitalization, there’s no buyer’s remorse.

“I remain extremely excited about the project,” said Oborny, a Wichita developer of retail and office space. “We’ve had a lot of nice interest from the community and the region since we made the announcement we’ve closed.”

Occidental continues to work on designs and recruit potential tenants for the Union Station complex, acquired Feb. 1 from Cox Communications. Terms of the deal have not been disclosed.

The big question remains how much space Occidental will offer on the East Douglas campus – and how much the historic renovation ultimately will cost. The February deal also includes the old Rock Island depot and the Grand Hotel building just to the east of the station.

“A lot depends on what you do,” Oborny said. “We have 110,000 square feet, and we could take that to 225,000 to 250,000 if the demand is there.

“I think that $40 million to $50 million is realistic if you apply the bigger square footage numbers, but if we stay with the lighter number, you can get in there for about $25 million.”

Oborny said he has made no decision about approaching city or state officials for tax incentives, although a proposed tunnel under the railroad tracks to create walkability – a theme of Project Downtown, the city’s master plan – would appear to qualify for city incentives. The project also would appear to qualify for state and federal historic tax credits, government programs to encourage the preservation and restoration of historic buildings.

Community improvement districts, which levy extra sales taxes to fund improvements in the district, and the city’s facade improvement program, which finances exterior improvements through a loan program – including some forgivable funding – also could be used at Union Station, city officials said.

Those same officials have indicated they are ready to consider any incentives proposals on the Union Station project.

“Our position has not changed in any way,” said Mayor Carl Brewer. “We take these project by project, and, dependent on what it is he’s asking for, we’ll take a look at it.

“That site could be the foundation that would tie Old Town into the arena and really kick-start some great things downtown.”

Jeff Fluhr, president of the Wichita Downtown Development Corp., said the Union Station project would be welcome before the downtown project review committee, which vets downtown projects.

“We would definitely consider the project for the financial instruments we have available,” Fluhr said.

Oborny acknowledged that a renovation project in a building that was placed on the state and national historic registers in 2004 will be costly.

“Certainly, there are additional expenses involved in meeting a historical mandate,” he said.

The theme for the Union Station project is an extension of Old Town, Oborny said.

“It’s a metro mixed-use deal with the additional caveat of the historical,” he said. “We intend to honor the historical part and spice up the area around us in consort with Old Town.”

Progress should soon be apparent on the project, Oborny said.

“The Rock Island restaurant is something we want to get started this year, and we want to have something done on the Grand Hotel building in 2013, too,” he said. “There’s work to be done on the exteriors, historical work, while we’re doing tenant finishes.”

Occidental’s focus then will shift to the train station in 2014, he said.

“We’re talking to a lot of different tenants,” Oborny said. “If something signs faster, we’ll move, but when you’re dealing with bigger tenants, longer-term projects to get signed up, it takes awhile.”

Oborny wouldn’t identify any prospective tenants but said interest has come from Wichita and throughout the region.

“I think that Union Station itself, people want to be there, and we’ve had a great response from those people, both locally and regionally,” he said. “Other groups that do Old Town have contacted us, and some regional and national folks have as well. It’s a well-known location with a landmark.”

Occidental is a diversified firm established by Oborny in 1997. Beginning with the Bristol Square retail project in 2000, the company is best known for its conversion of the Northrock 6 theater building into office space. The company also operates EcoGen, an alternative energy development firm.

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