Moving on in: Suburban family, others drawn to living downtown

12/22/2013 12:00 AM

12/22/2013 7:50 AM

Shannon Boone is getting ready to pack her suburban household and move to the city’s core.

Boone, her two children and her husband, Jeff, plan to leave behind next month a four-bedroom house they own in Derby and set up their new residence in downtown Wichita.

“I am super excited and probably a tad bit insane to do it around the holidays,” said Boone, who owns an event planning business. “I spend a lot of time down there. Most of my events happen in and around downtown. (My husband and I) met downtown. Our first date was downtown. We got married downtown. It’s a good fit for us.”

The Boones are moving to the Lux, an eight-story building that is the former KG&E headquarters at First and Market that’s being converted to an 85-unit apartment complex and two floors of commercial office space.

It is one of several apartment buildings either coming online or planned for the city’s core. According to Wichita Downtown Development Corp., apartment projects under construction or planned will add 728 units to the 1,472 currently occupied or available in the district, which is an area bounded by Kellogg to the south, Central to the north, Washington to the east and the Arkansas River to the west.

“We’re well on way to be doubling our residential base, probably in the next two to three years,” said Jeff Fluhr, president of Wichita Downtown Development.

Fluhr said additional residential development begets even more in the future.

And it will lead to more amenities for downtown residents – and maybe even that grocery store that some residents say they would like to have. “The more people living here, the more amenities,” he said. “With every project you’re increasing the residential viability of downtown.”

People, activity

The lack of amenities such as a grocery store doesn’t seem to be a sticking point to some residents living downtown.

Zach Wiggins, an attorney at Martin Pringle, has lived downtown for a little more than two years, which is when he joined the law firm.

A native Wichitan who grew up near Kellogg and Maize on the city’s far west side, Wiggins said a bigger consideration for him was distance to work. Martin Pringle’s offices are in the Bank of America Center at Douglas and Broadway.

“I’m a half a mile away from work, which is convenient,” said Wiggins, who lives in Innes Station in Old Town. “There are a lot of different places to eat, a lot of places to go. I like being around all the activity and all the people.”

Most of the time, Wiggins’ car is parked in the parking garage. “I basically never get it out unless I have to go to Walmart,” he said.

Mitchell Burns moved into the Player Piano Lofts on Douglas in Old Town three weeks ago. An Indiana native who was transferred to Wichita from suburban New York City by his employer, Whirlpool Corp., Burns said he wanted an urban area to live in and homed in on Old Town while researching his residential options online.

“It was just a no-brainer from my online search,” said Burns. “This Old Town area is really, really cool. I am a people person. I love when there’s venues to experience … anywhere from bars to movie theaters to bowling alleys to art festivals. I love being in that environment.”

Suzy Finn, executive director of Young Professionals of Wichita, said when she returned to Wichita after working for four years in Washington, D.C., she intentionally looked to move downtown even though she wasn’t working there at the time. “It’s convenient for anywhere else in town I need to go,” she said. “We’re so close to Kellogg.”

More important, “I met a lot of friends who lived downtown,” Finn said. “You can get together easily, meet up at restaurants or bars or each others’ apartments.”

She finds it is a drawback to not have a grocery store nearby. “In D.C. I was about a block away from a Trader Joe’s so I had really convenient access to a grocery store there,” she said. “That’s a piece I miss.”

And it can also be a drawback living where she does downtown – at the Finn Lofts (named after her grandparents, who for years had several businesses in the building, though her family no longer owns it) on Commerce Street, near Intrust Bank Arena. She said living there can be frustrating when there are big events at the arena or on Final Fridays, the monthly art crawl.

“In the three and a half years I’ve lived there I haven’t considered … moving out of downtown,” Finn said. “It’s just an exciting area to be a part of.”

She said that could change, however, if she were to get married and decide to raise a family. “I haven’t totally thought about it,” Finn said. “I think it will depend on when that happens and what options there are that maybe do make that a little more feasible.”

‘Massive life change’

Boone, the event planner, says her family’s pending move is a “massive life change.”

“My 18-year-old son would rather be independently wealthy and move out” on his own, she said. “My daughter is super excited.”

Her daughter is 9. Boone said she and her husband had discussed in the past moving downtown once both her children were grown and had moved out of the house.

But her growing business prompted her to look for office space for her previously home-based business, which led her to visit the Lux. “I went in to get a tour of the commercial space … and when I walked out of the building I called my husband and said, ‘I want an office here, and I want to live here,’ ” Finn said.

The move won’t displace her daughter’s school life since she attends a Montessori school in northeast Wichita. “We’re going from a 30-minute drive to about a 15-minute drive,” Boone said. Her son is a student at Butler Community College.

Boone said the 1,800-square-foot apartment at the Lux is equivalent to the main floor of her Derby house, which is where the family “does most of our living.”

The Lux, which is being developed by Robert Eyster and Michael Ramsey, is one of the more recent downtown apartment projects aimed at not just young, single professionals, but also families. Development officials have said the Lux apartments, with their loft, one-, two- and three-bedroom configurations, could accommodate a continuum of living, such as for the single person who moves in, later gets married and then starts a family while continuing to reside in the same building.

Fluhr, the downtown official, said that families represented about 4 percent of the 1,393 people living in the district’s 67202 ZIP code, based off of 2010 Census data.

The addition of more families such as the Boones will only help to complete the district’s residential “circle,” and perhaps stimulate additional amenities that are targeted to families, such as park areas with play equipment and zero-entry water features — and maybe even that grocery store.

“It really is a dynamic we’re starting to see more of with our housing options,” Fluhr said.

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