December 20, 2012

Eagle editorial: Big year for downtown

Downtown Wichita is ending the year on a high note, offering hope for even more growth and redevelopment in the coming year.

Downtown Wichita is ending the year on a high note, offering hope for even more growth and redevelopment in the coming year.

Several projects that have been or will be completed this month will cause more people to stay and play downtown.

The new Robert D. Love Downtown YMCA, 402 N. Market, has helped change the landscape of downtown. The 110,000-square-foot, glass-filled building officially opened last week and is expected to draw 30,000 adults and children in its first year – twice as many as the old Central Y.

Player Piano Lofts, 704 E. Douglas, is opening Saturday. The 1901 building was renovated to include 36 units, many of which already have been leased.

The Ambassador Hotel Wichita is opening Dec. 26. The 14-story, upscale hotel at Douglas and Broadway will feature 117 rooms, as well as conference facilities and a steakhouse.

A number of other projects also were completed during 2012 or are nearing completion, including Zelman Lofts, the Renfro building apartments, a new public parking garage, and the renovation of St. Mary’s Cathedral (dedication scheduled for Feb. 2). All total, there were about $98 million worth of downtown projects completed this year.

And 2013 will be another big year, as about $50 million in projects are scheduled to be completed or initiated next year. These include the Kansas Leadership Center and Kansas Health Foundation Conference Center (the first new construction project along the core of Douglas Avenue in 38 years), WaterWalk west bank apartments, the Lux and the Douglas streetscape project.

In addition, the Wichita City Council approved this week the acquisition of the Exchange Place project by a Texas residential real-estate developer. City officials hope that the developer will breathe new life into the $65 million conversion of the Exchange Place and Bitting buildings at Market and Douglas into 230 apartments.

The Eagle also reported this week that there may be a buyer for Union Station. The former train station at 701 E. Douglas will help link Old Town to Intrust Bank Arena and other development projects.

City and downtown officials hope these projects spur other development, including in-fill construction at the old Allis Hotel site. One key to keeping this momentum going will be the continuation of the state’s historic tax credits, which help make it feasible to renovate historic buildings.

“This is a real dynamic time for our city,” said Jeff Fluhr, president of Wichita Downtown Development Corp.

Here’s hoping that dynamism continues next year and beyond.

For the editorial board, Phillip Brownlee

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