WaterWalk developers want the Wichita City Council’s permission to demolish three historic downtown apartment buildings.
The Historic Preservation Board previously denied the developers’ request, so they are appealing to the council.
The vacant buildings – known as the Leona, Naomi and Ellington apartments – are on the National Register of Historic Places and the Register of Historic Kansas Places.
The city has responded to nuisance calls of homeless people getting into the buildings, and at least two fires have started inside one of the buildings, city documents say.
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WaterWalk and Main Street Apartments USA are buying the three buildings, which are east of the WaterWalk development downtown at 507 S. Market, 509 S. Market and 514 S. Main.
“We just feel like that corner is really the gateway into downtown and the city and it needs to have a better look,” said David Redfern, president of WaterWalk LLC.
If the City Council approves the demolition, Redfern said, they will replace the buildings with a new commercial building.
The company has been in the process of purchasing the property for about three months, Redfern said.
City staff recommends that the council allow the demolition since there are no “prudent and feasible alternatives.” The cost of the demolition would be paid by the owner, according to city documents.
In 2013, The Eagle wrote that the buildings were part of a $6 million renovation plan by Kansas City-based Sunflower Development Group, which planned a mix of studio and one-bedroom apartments.
Sunflower Development was seeking affordable housing and historic tax credits for the project. At the time, developers said the city of Wichita had approved bonds for the project, but the state hadn’t allocated the money yet.
According to the Kansas Historical Society, 507 and 509 S. Market, also known as the Naomi and Leona apartment buildings, were built in 1926 and 1927 by Oliver J. Mourning and were named after Mourning’s daughter and mother.
The two-story, identical brick buildings were built in the Neoclassical style, “which is evident in the symmetrical facade and dentiled cornice,” according to the historical society. Each building had 24 units with fireplaces, private baths and kitchens, and most of the tenants were single women.
The Ellington apartment building at 514 S. Main was built by John Wenzel in 1927 “at the height of an apartment construction boom,” according to the state historical society. The two-story brick building was also designed with elements of the Neoclassical style by architect Walter Street, and contained 20 units.
“Tenants generally included a mix of couples and singles, with single women generally outnumbering single men,” according to the historical society.
The three buildings were listed on the National Register on June 25, 2013.