Downtown event celebrates Block One projects

03/28/2013 8:35 AM

03/29/2013 7:11 AM

With three building projects down and two to go, civic, business and government officials gathered Thursday to acknowledge progress on the Block One area that encompasses redevelopment of a downtown city block.

“Sometimes I think we forget to celebrate because we’re moving on to the next project,” Mayor Carl Brewer said at the event.

About 100 people filled the new Urban Plaza at Block One at 104 S. Broadway to mark the completion of the plaza, the adjacent Ambassador Hotel and the parking garage at Block One.

Block One is an area bounded by Douglas to the north, Broadway to the west, William to the south and Topeka to the east.

Brewer noted that the Kansas Leadership Center, one of the last Block One projects still under construction, is the first new building project along Douglas in nearly 40 years.

“Now, that’s one historical mark,” he said.

The three projects feted Thursday were largely completed at the end of December, including a soft opening of the 14-story Ambassador, which has 117 guest rooms and 12 suites. The $23 million hotel project – $15 million of which came from public incentives – was led by developer Paul Coury, who has a chain of boutique hotels. Coury on Thursday underscored the importance of relationships. He said it was Dave Wells of Key Construction and Old Town developer Dave Burke who brought him here to renovate the former Union National Bank building.

“Without them, I wouldn’t be in Wichita,” Coury said.

The main entrance to the hotel opens to the Urban Plaza, which includes park benches, lighting, decorative metal panels and a set of panels featuring flowers in mosaic tile.

The 270-space, $6.8 million Block One parking garage includes 8,400 square feet on the ground level.

One of the two remaining Block One building projects is the $9 million, 36,000-square-foot Kansas Leadership Center on the southwest corner of Douglas and Topeka. It’s expected to be completed in the summer.

And likely the last building project to unfold will be the former Henry’s department store, a 50,000-square-foot, three-story building directly across the plaza from the Ambassador.

In an interview after the event, Jerry Jones, vice president of Slawson Cos., the developer and owner of the building at Broadway and Topeka, said the company is continuing to market the building for a major tenant “to kick off the development.”

“We’re looking at it probably being a mixed-use building with restaurants and or retail on the ground floor, then different uses on the upper levels,” he said.

The different uses could include office space or residential development, Jones said.

He said there are a lot of interested tenants and users at this point. But “we’re not going to proceed until we have a solid, major tenant.”

Slawson is also handling the leasing of the garage’s ground-floor retail space.

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