Wichita’s River Vista developers get feedback from young professionals

11/13/2013 5:09 PM

11/13/2013 5:09 PM

Developers expect to have their final plan for a $22 million downtown apartment, office and retail project complete by early next year, but first they want to hear from a key demographic group.

George Laham and his partners laid out their plans for their River Vista project Tuesday evening to about 50 people who attended the nearly two-hour meeting at the Warren Old Town Theatre. Most of those attending the presentation were members of the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce’s Young Professionals of Wichita group.

River Vista partner Dave Burk said that while the project will probably attract a few empty-nesters and even families, its greatest appeal will likely be among professional people in their 20s and 30s.

“We wanted to present to them first,” Burk said after the meeting.

Also at the meeting were River Vista’s two other partners, movie theater owner Bill Warren and Dave Wells of Key Construction.

“The last time we did a project together was Old Town Square,” Laham said. “We’ve been looking for the right opportunity to come downtown. This is a great site.”

Laham told the group that plans call for the complex to consist of 85 one-bedroom apartments that will be 960 square feet, 51 two-bedroom units measuring 1,136 square feet and 18 two-bedroom loft apartments that will be 1,450 square feet. He said rent would likely range from $900 a month for a one-bedroom apartment to about $1,400 a month for a two-bedroom loft. “That’s pretty consistent with rates downtown,” Laham said, adding that the rates are estimates and have not been set.

Amenities will include a swimming pool leading to a lower sun deck, a clubhouse with capacity for 125 people, restaurant space on the second floor and a “boutique” shop that will rent bicycles and boats to River Vista residents as well as the public.

The project also will feature two-deck, gated parking for residents and 140 parking spaces for public use. Plans also call for a 20,000-square-foot building expected to house offices, retail and restaurants on the four-acre site that is bounded by the Arkansas River to the east, McLean Boulevard to the west, Douglas to the south and First Street to the north.

Plans also call for redeveloping the riverbank along River Vista, including enhancing the walking and bike paths that pass by the project as well as improvements to the adjacent Delano Park. Last month, City Council members approved a development plan for River Vista and $2.5 million in tax increment financing. The developers bought the land from the city for $100,000, substantially less than the site’s $600,000 appraisal.

Traniece Bruce, a pre-college adviser for the Upward Bound program at Wichita State University, said after the presentation that the River Vista complex appeals to her because of its “aesthetics and how they were intentional in that,” including its colored concrete finishes, the inclusion of balconies for each unit and the liberal use of glass.

But Bruce, 26, said the project will have even greater appeal if certain amenities – such as a coffee shop – become part of the final plan.

Mandy Lusk, a 34-year-old assistant professor of special education at WSU, said Wichita is the fifth city she has lived in. She moved here last year from Dallas.

“If I had that option when I moved here a year ago, then I would have definitely rented from that facility,” said Lusk, who currently rents in Riverside. “Having something clean, modern and vibrant is appealing to me.”

She said it’s not a given that once River Vista begins renting that she will be among its first tenants. She doesn’t think it’s conveniently walkable from the River Vista site to Old Town, where restaurants and bars are, especially during late summer and winter. She said if River Vista gets those kind of amenities, then she would give greater consideration to moving there.

“What I want when I move to a new city is a sense of community,” she said. “I think that development has that potential.”

Laham said during the meeting that he would like to see restaurants – and possibly a coffee shop or cafe – in the retail space that has been set aside for the River Vista plaza building, but he did not make any guarantees.

He also heard a couple of requests and questions about the possibility of a grocer at or near the site – a familiar request that’s probably more than a decade old from residents who live in the downtown area.

While the number of people living downtown is increasing, Laham told the audience, there probably needs to be additional “rooftops” or residences before the downtown area lands a grocery store.

“I think we have a little ways to go,” Laham said.

After the meeting, Laham said notes were taken on every question and were distributed to himself and his partners (he said there were 61). He said the feedback will be incorporated into the final design of the project.

“We take this very seriously,” he said. “This is a very important site to the city of Wichita. The development on this site needs to be done right or not done at all.”

Laham, who touted the views that residents would have of the river and downtown, said construction would likely begin in the spring and last 12 to 14 months.

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