Forget the old saying “If you build it, they will come.”
Mike and Tina Andra haven’t even started construction on their new Wichita Union Stockyards event center, and they already have weddings booked.
“There’s a big demand,” Mike Andra says. “People want to come out and have something that’s kind of country a little bit.”
The Andras, who also plan a restaurant on the property, are Conway Springs natives who are longtime ranchers, among other things. They still have their ranch but now live in Wichita and are following through on something they’ve talked about for years.
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“My wife and I always … wanted kind of a Western, kind of a country-themed center,” Andra says.
They purchased 40 acres at 6425 W. MacArthur in Sedgwick County. The only thing citified about it are the airplanes in a flight path overhead.
“It’s the approximate location of where the Chisholm Trail crossed the Cowskin Creek,” Andra says. “The last open field next to the city limits of Wichita.”
There will be several phases of the Stockyards.
The main building, an event center, will “look like a large livestock facility would have … 100 and some years ago,” Andra says. “It’s just going to be a big post-and-beam-type barn.”
The outside will be metal and will be relatively quick to build. Construction will start in April and be finished this fall.
“The construction is kind of unique. It’s the old way of doing things. It’ll be all big posts and beams inside,” Andra says. “We’ve already got some weddings … booked for this thing like a year in advance.”
He thinks there are a lot of people who are attracted to a more country way of life.
“I just think they like the change, probably. It’s a little slower and not as hectic.”
He built a pond with an island where he plans to put a small place for brides and grooms to spend the night.
“Kind of like an old bunk house would be on a ranch,” Andra says. “Nothing fancy. It’ll be kind of (a) rustic-type deal.”
About a year ago, the Andras became owners in KWLS, 107.9 FM with Larry Steckline.
The station has concerts throughout the year, and Mike Andra says he’d like to have some at the Stockyards.
“Sometimes it’s hard to find a venue that’s available.”
He has grander plans, too.
“We thought about on some Saturday nights having a live broadcast, kind of like the Grand Ole Opry used to be.”
Andra, who has a slight twang himself, says he and his wife have always been country music fans.
The first building the Andras will build is going to be a smaller barn on the property.
“We just kind of want to put it up and think of what we’ll do then,” Mike Andra says. “There’s so many people up here and so much going on, you can just do anything.”
Next year, he says, there are plans for a cookhouse and meat market that will connect to a steakhouse.
“I don’t want to cook inside the big building … just to kind of keep it pristine.”
Andra says the food operation will allow the family to “market our cattle that we raise direct all the way through to the steakhouse. That way we can raise them the way we want.”
That means exclusively using feed barley they grow themselves.
There also will be cattle on the property. Some are already there. Andra says he’ll bring up a small longhorn herd, too.
“We’re planting this back to native grass, and there will be a fence around the buildings, and there will actually be longhorns here,” he says. “Kind of get the mood right and environment right.”
The first event at the Stockyards likely will be Sept. 23 in connection with the 150th anniversary of the Chisholm Trail. KWLS will cover the September anniversary cattle drive. Andra, who says he owns several miles of the trail in Sumner County, says he’d like that to be the grand opening.
The Andras have always had a variety of businesses, such as a grocery store and a fertilizer business.
“We’ve always been in a lot of different things,” Mike Andra says. “We’re getting to the time we kind of want to do something else.”
Andra wanted to name the business after the former Wichita Union Stockyards on 21st Street.
“I couldn’t believe that it was available.”
He says he and his wife now have the copyright.
Andra guesses they’ll probably have $1.5 million invested in the business by the time it’s fully built.
“This isn’t going to be like an every-day deal,” he says. “This is going to be like a Saturday deal.”
The Andras aren’t doing it for a living or as an investment, but Mike Andra thinks it will be profitable.
“These wedding things, it scares you to death when you see what some of them spend.”
That’s not what attracted the rancher, though. He says his motives are more pure.
“I think it’ll be fun.”