Wichitans on Tuesday got their first look at a design aimed at restoring and revitalizing a railroad overpass considered the gateway connecting downtown to the city’s entertainment district.
Aside from adding color and artistic flare to the otherwise industrial-looking Douglas Avenue Underpass, the plans unveiled by the Wichita Downtown Development Corp. also address a few key problems, including structural damage, safety and a substantial pigeon population that long has plagued the bridge.
“We had clear goals and objectives we wanted to achieve,” Jason Gregory, executive vice president of the downtown development group, said as he showed off the plans during a public open house Tuesday at the group’s Design and Innovation Center, 505 E. Douglas. The Wichita Downtown Development Corp. is a nonprofit that works closely with the private sector and local government to stimulate interest in redeveloping downtown Wichita.
“Our commitment was obviously ... to solve those core issues,” he said. “But as a city, we have the opportunity to do something memorable ... beyond just cleaning up and painting” the bridge.
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The plans, called concept designs, call for maintaining the historical aspects and maintenance needs of the railroad while adding aesthetic touches to make the tunnel underpass a more inviting, safe space for both pedestrians and motorists, Gregory said.
Inside the tunnel, the existing concrete guardrails will be replaced by more open, mesh ones, and overhead lighting will be added. Cracks in the concrete walls will be repaired. Artwork cut into moire patterns and touch-sensitive color-changing lighted panels also will be installed to create a sense of movement as travelers pass under the bridge.
“It will be a playful way for people to stop and experience the tunnel,” Gregory said of the interior artwork.
Lighted columns added to both the east and west faces of the bridge’s exterior will increase visibility and safety, Gregory said. And light cast upon the train engine that sits atop the bridge, as well as two “pixelated” photo murals, will beautify the area, he said.
To tackle the pigeon problem, Gregory said the interior of the tunnel will be lined with removable panels. Those panels will continue to allow railroad workers to inspect the overpass’s integrity but will restrict the birds’ access to their usual roosting areas.
The designs, by LawKingdon Architecture, were paid for through a $75,000 grant from the Knight Foundation Fund of the Wichita Community Foundation.
Gregory said Tuesday that the Wichita Downtown Development Corp. is still awaiting cost estimates for the revitalization. It has not yet set a completion date or a budget for the project, but a fundraising campaign is slated to begin this fall. Money to pay for the project will likely come from grants, private donors and transportation dollars, he said.
The bridge “is a key lynchpin for Douglas and the connectivity for some really key areas” of the city, Gregory said.
The renovation design “is a balance that respects the historical context and the integrity of the structure, but yet it introduces some playful and creative art scenes that I think are going to pull people through that space and make you want to come back and experience it again.”