Walking through the Union Station passenger terminal in downtown Wichita, developer Gary Oborny envisions putting in glass where a lot of wallboard was added to the interior of the building long after it first opened in 1914.
“We want to celebrate the historical components, the historical bones of the building,” said Oborny during a walk-through of the 57,000-square-foot building earlier this week. “And where we can, a mix of more modern architecture, a fresh and new look for today.”
The chairman and CEO of Occidental Management, which in February purchased the Union Station terminal and two adjoining properties from Cox Communications, said his company is progressing in its plans to turn the historic property – which includes the Rock Island Depot to the east and the former Grand Hotel on the southwest corner of Rock Island and Douglas – into a mixed-use complex of offices, restaurants, retail shops and possibly even residential units.
Oborny, whose company has a history of developing retail space and successfully converting buildings to different uses, said he expects the first round of remodeling to begin at the Rock Island Depot and Grand Hotel as early as the fourth quarter of this year. And by the fourth quarter of next year, he expects a different round of work to begin on the construction of a parking structure at the south end of the property.
The new structure would have space for retailers on the ground with parking for 425 cars wrapping around and above the storefronts, Oborny and Occidental president Chad Stafford said. The parking spaces would be in addition to the 550 parking spaces already available on the 9.5-acre site, they said.
So far, they’ve leased one of the three buildings, the Rock Island Depot. Neil Bahkta signed a lease about two weeks ago for the vacant portion of the depot, where he will open his fourth Smoothie King as well as a new restaurant and venue space. The remainder of the space is occupied by a Cox retail store.
Oborny and Stafford said the company could end up spending anywhere from $25 million to $50 million on redevelopment, depending on the scale of the work they end up doing, including the possible addition of 200 apartments.
“We’ve always had that as kind of a consideration,” said Stafford, noting that apartments have been leasing up quickly downtown in recent years. “We could have that as a component.”
Oborny said he still has made no decision about approaching local or state government for any tax incentives on the project.
He said he’s really hoping for a large office user to lease the passenger terminal, the centerpiece of the site. Oborny added that he has had and continues to have talks with potential users fitting that profile.
“Like any development, it’s a moving target,” Oborny said of the types of potential Union Station tenants.
Added Stafford: “As in any development, we have a plan A, B, C and D, E, F. We are working on leases for all those capacities now.”
The really important thing, they said, is they want the complex once fully developed to come across as a busy, energetic place.
“We want to see a lot of people, a lot of activity,” Oborny said.
He hopes to create that not only through tenants, but by other means. He’s thought about ways to get the city’s food trucks to converge on Union Station once a week. He’d also like to see activities and events held on the plaza outside the front of Union Station.
“I think we have a number of areas that could become a gathering area,” Oborny said.
He said the property’s plans would accommodate supporting passenger trains, if city and state officials are successful in getting Amtrak’s Heartland Flyer to add Wichita and Kansas City to its route, which currently extends from Oklahoma City to Fort Worth.
“We think it would be a great location for it,” Oborny said.
Jeff Fluhr, president of Wichita Downtown Development Corp., said Union Station is a “pivotal piece of downtown’s landscape” and Oborny and Stafford are flexible and understand the bigger picture of developing something downtown – something that interconnects with other projects and amenities.
“That’s the thing that is impressive,” Fluhr said. “They are asking those big questions, those hard questions.”
“This is a long journey,” he added. “This is not just renovating a building.”