Downtown revitalization landed its first major corporate endorsement Tuesday when Cargill officials announced plans to build a $14.7 million innovation center on Wichita Street between First and Second streets.
The Cargill Innovation Center will house research, development, culinary, laboratory, pilot plant and distribution functions, employing about 65 people near Cargill's headquarters at 151 N. Main. The two-story facility is expected to open in the summer of 2011.
The center will include laboratories focusing on food safety and quality research and development, new product development, packing innovations, and the testing of processing equipment, said Cargill spokesman Mike Martin.
There also will be training and conference capabilities and a culinary center with professional chefs doing food preparation demonstrations for customers and other groups.
The downtown center replaces a 210,000-square-foot building at 2901 N. Mead, acquired by Cargill in 1978. Construction on the 75,000-square-foot facility will begin in July by developer Arco National Construction Co. and architect GMA Design Group, both of St. Louis.
The project will be partially funded by a $750,000 grant over five years from the Kansas Bioscience Authority, awarded May 10.
Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer said the Cargill announcement is a "momentum driver" for downtown redevelopment.
"Because it's been many years since we've done something like this, it required some people to take a fresh look, but the bottom line is that instead of moving businesses away from downtown, you can build downtown. You can build in the center city," Brewer said.
Downtown officials agreed Tuesday with the mayor's sentiment.
"Cargill's decision to build a new corporate building is a cornerstone to downtown's redevelopment," said Jeff Fluhr, president of the Wichita Downtown Redevelopment Corp. "It demonstrates a major corporation's commitment and partnership to develop a vibrant city center."
Downtown Wichita was a natural site for the company's expansion, according to Cargill's spokesman.
"This Cargill Innovation Center is good for the company because it will be in close proximity to our U.S. meat business headquarters on Main Street," Martin said.
"There will be synergies gained from having the facility nearby with convenient access. Also, we often have customers in town who have meetings at both the office and R&D center. The new center will make it more efficient for customer visits."
Fluhr said downtown officials are working with Cargill and its designers on a building compatible with the urban walkability model created for downtown by Goody Clancy, the consultants hired to create a new downtown master plan.
"We are elated today because what you see is a great company expanding its presence in a campus-style downtown," Fluhr said. "It drives the fundamental components of the downtown revitalization master plan — walkability and activity."
The building will have a lot of windows on the first floor to allow people to see in.
"When people pass by, it'll be great to see inside the building, see what's happening, creating an urban environment, not dealing with a solid wall."