Jason Van Sickle has big hopes for Old Town.
Van Sickle, a Wichita commercial real estate developer and new president of the Old Town Association, has a series of ideas to make the area “Wichita’s biggest, best and most family-friendly entertainment district.”
From association subcommittees to a plan to enhance Old Town safety, Van Sickle’s agenda focuses on growth, he said, and a clear definition of what Old Town is.
“To me, Old Town is defined by an architectural style more than the uses or businesses it has,” he said. “It’s the old row house and warehouse district downtown, not the high-rises downtown.”
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That style, including downtown businesses west of the railroad tracks like the Old Mill Tasty Shop and the vacant Spaghetti Works building, should bond the Old Town that Van Sickle envisions with Intrust Bank Arena.
“The city, as part of their long-term revitalization plan for downtown, wants to create walkability, so if we look at Old Town going as far west as St. Francis, then we create a walkability factor with the arena,” Van Sickle said.
“It isn’t just saying to businesses, ‘We’ll call you a part of Old Town.’ We’ll meet with the businesses and make sure they’re interested in what we can offer, but it’s also tapping into the resources we hope to create.”
Downtown and Old Town officials say they’re excited by a “younger person’s vision” for the entertainment district.
“We need younger people involved, simple as that,” said outgoing president Charlie Claycomb, who headed the association for six years and will remain as secretary. “Jason has a lot of ideas – a lot of good ideas – and he wants to put us on the map more.”
“Jason’s never been afraid to ask questions about how we best approach things,” said Jeff Fluhr, president of the Wichita Downtown Development Corp. “Any time you’re a real estate developer, you’ve got to be able to ask those questions because the simple solution isn’t always the best one.”
“I think Jason has a lot of great ideas, and I think he’ll be a great president,” Old Town developer Dave Burk said.
Van Sickle said he also wants to fine-tune security in Old Town, noting that Wichita police have helped minimize trouble there with a heightened presence.
“The police have done a great job with increased resources,” Van Sickle said. “But we can’t expect those increased resources forever, and we need to consider some alternative forms of financing so we can hold up more of our end of the bargain as businesses.”
A fractional sales tax and an entertainment district designation – also a form of a patron-paid tax – to help finance the hiring of off-duty police are being considered.
“It would be nice to have a permanent funding mechanism for additional security,” Burk said. “I don’t know if it’s a structured piece or a voluntary piece where we can get people down here to participate.”
Security is a form of marketing to patrons, Van Sickle said: You can still have a good and safe time in Old Town, a good time featuring more events in a “one-stop place for entertainment.”
“Bottom line is entertainment districts are going to have issues, especially when you put in a nightlife component,” he said. “They have them everywhere. It’s a national trend right now. It’s a shame that a handful of people can come down and cause the kind of problems we’ve dealt with in the past. But people who visit Old Town need to understand that those are problems we’re simply not going to put up with.”
Any privately funded Old Town security efforts would be welcomed at City Hall, said Janet Miller, who represents the district on the Wichita City Council.
“We’d absolutely entertain those, especially if they’re initiated by property and business owners as it appears they will be,” she said.
Van Sickle also wants to move quickly to involve more Old Town stakeholders – retailers, restaurant operators, bar operators, condo owners and residential landlords.
He is proposing the creation of individual niche subcommittees to report to the Old Town Association board – retail, restaurants, residents, business owners.
“I think it would allow us to hone in on the important issues – which could be different – for each group and it also should get more people involved in the direction of Old Town,” Van Sickle said.
Success in his first year as president would be achieved by enhancing Old Town’s status as the go-to place for fun in Wichita.
“I want Old Town to be safe and exciting. Period. We’re going to focus on those two things in the year ahead,” he said.