Section of North St. Francis opens to two-way traffic in downtown Wichita

No more letting customers in through the back door in the alley. Orange cones and dust have been replaced with landscaping and benches.

St. Francis Street had a new-car feel Monday when it opened as a two-way street between Douglas and Second with diagonal parking. It’s part of the downtown master plan and the final touch in making Second a gateway coming from Old Town into downtown.

But for business owners in the area, it was just nice for the work to be finished.

“I don’t know how to act with the street back up and running,” said John Whissen, manager of the Coleman Co.’s factory outlet store and museum at 235 N. St. Francis.

St. Francis had been one-way southbound for that two-block stretch before the city spent $2 million for street work, new lights, landscaping, benches and more. Bike racks are expected to be installed by the end of the week, interim city engineer Gary Janzen said.

“It’s beautiful,” said Coleman Lockett, who just completed the move of his restaurant, Bite Me BBQ, from west Kellogg in Goddard to 132 N. St. Francis. “Why they put the park benches in backward, I have no idea.”

The new benches, bolted to the concrete, all face away from the street, unlike benches in the other areas of downtown. It’s about leg room.

Between the right of way and the diagonal parking there wasn’t much room to sit if the benches faced toward the street, Janzen said.

“We’ll see how it works,” he added. “We can always flip them around later.”

The street never completely closed, but it was reduced to one lane during much of the construction time that began last fall.

Steve Klepacki, a sales representative for Contract Furnishings, 114 N. St. Francis, said he would sometimes direct customers who had made appointments to come in through the back door because of parking problems. But he also complimented workers for keeping the company’s front door accessible and sidewalk in front swept clean.

“But this is great,” he said. “It’s nice to see the cones finally gone.”

Janzen said the two-block stretch was identified as a “catalyst for the downtown master plan.”

Work on the area began last August as part of a county, city and private partnership to put some life back into St. Francis.

Sedgwick County spent $2.1 million to build two parking lots at Second and St. Francis, including at the site of the old former Coleman manufacturing plant. A large chunk of that went into demolishing the plant and disposing of asbestos.

The Downtown Rotary Club chipped in $300,000 to build a pedestrian park on the southeast corner of Second and St. Francis, including the Rotary Time Tower – a working sculpture that moves with the wind and marks time by producing sound every 15 minutes.

Monday, the wind caused the metal sculpture to make plenty of sound all the time.

Coleman also contributed $50,000 so salvaged bricks from its old plant could be used in masonry work and its former arches could be used for part of the landscape.

The area is changing its face. Gone is a local parole office. The forlorn look of Coleman’s shambles of a plant and its broken windows are a memory.

Besides the new restaurant, a home furnishing store also recently opened. All nine of the Zellman Lofts in the remodeled building at Douglas and St. Francis have been leased, said Jeff Fluhr, president of the Wichita Downtown Development Center. Developer Jay Maxwell is moving his corporate headquarters into a refurbished building across from the park, Fluhr added.

“The whole corridor has been changed in the last year,” he said.