City Council approves $180,000 for facade improvements to Old Town building

07/01/2014 5:50 PM

07/01/2014 5:51 PM

A venerable Old Town building will get a facelift following Tuesday’s City Council approval of a $180,000 loan-and-grant plan for facade improvements.

The plan is part of the financing for a $2.5 million acquisition and renovation of a commercial building at 143 N. Rock Island, city records show.

It has housed a number of businesses through the years but may be best known as the onetime site of Old Town Underground, a short-lived but memorable retail experiment of the late 1990s featuring a basement mini-mall of wire cages housing tiny shops.

The building was formerly owned by scrapyard entrepreneur Sheldon Kamen, a former Wichita mayor, City Council and school board member who died two years ago. Old Town developer Dave Burk bought the building from Kamen’s heirs, said Allen Bell, city director of urban development.

Burk said he plans to call the building Rock Island Lofts. He said he’ll divide the second and third floors into eight large apartments, renting for $1,000 to $1,700 a month depending on the unit size and placement.

The main floor will hold about 7,000 square feet of retail space, and the basement that was formerly the Underground will become an underground parking garage, he said.

Under the plan approved Tuesday, the city will front Burk $180,000 to repair the brickwork, doors and windows and make the building more accessible to people with disabilities.

Of that, $160,000 will be repaid through a 15-year special tax assessment on the property that starts once the renovation is complete and the building is generating rental income, Bell said.

Burk said he plans to keep and operate the property and pay the assessment taxes.

Burk also is receiving a $20,000 facade-improvement grant from the city – $10,000 for each side of the building facing a city street.

At Tuesday’s meeting, private-enterprise advocate Bob Weeks objected to the city’s participation in the project, saying the council should use its money to make citywide improvements that would benefit everybody.

“Whatever problems there were … that make this project not economically feasible, shouldn’t we work on fixing those for everyone, rather than parceling out business welfare like this on a piecemeal basis?” Weeks said.

The counter-argument came from plumber Lonny Wright, who said projects like Rock Island Lofts generate much-needed jobs for the community.

“We don’t need less incentives, we need more support for the private businesses,” Wright said.

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