Union Station project rolling along (+video)

Wichitans will likely be able to eat at restaurants and enjoy smoothies at the Union Station complex later this year, according to one of the point men for one of downtown’s largest redevelopment projects.

Chad Stafford of developing firm Occidental Management said the approximately $54 million redevelopment project on the nearly 10-acre site downtown is on schedule. A Mumbai Rail Indian Bistro and a Smoothie King location are expected to be open by late fall next to the old train station near Douglas and Rock Island.

“At any city you go to in America, these old stations are either dilapidating structures or they’ve been renovated and put into use as a downtown catalytic site,” Stafford said. “You can look at St. Louis and Kansas City’s Union Stations to see larger examples of what we want to do. This project, in the context of the revitalization happening downtown, made all the sense in the world for us. This will be an important connector between Old Town, the arena and the Commerce arts district.”

During a tour Friday, Stafford said that, aside from some minor hiccups to be expected with the renovation of a set of 100-plus-year-old buildings, work has gone smoothly.

“You find things when you work on old buildings,” Stafford said. “You find that there’s a light pole through the middle of a utility line and things like that, but we haven’t found any bodies or crazy things.”

Stafford said the plan is to finish up phase one later this year with the second and final phase completed 18-to-24 months after the original phase is done.

Visible for both daily downtown commuters and the city’s growing population of city dwellers, construction workers have been busy with not only dirt work, but also exterior enhancements and interior stripping for the four buildings within the complex.

The campus consists of the Union Station terminal with the marble pillars, the old brick Grand and Patrick Hotel structure at the northeast corner of the property and two smaller brick “Rock Island” buildings, which served as the original rail terminal structures. The larger Rock Island structure will house the restaurants.

“In these old buildings, you have to be really careful with the old brick,” Stafford said. “You can’t just come in and sandblast the old paint off. You want to keep the historic nature of the building, but also add some refresher to it. It’s really amazing how well they were built all those years ago.”

Work also has started for the planned plaza area – which Stafford said will feature a glass canopy shelter – that will face Douglas Avenue and serve as the signature feature for the project.

He said the vision is for various food vendors to be stationed on the plaza. On Friday, the future plaza area that Stafford and Occidental CEO Gary Oborny envision as a main gathering point for downtown residents and visitors was a dirt-covered construction zone, fenced-in from the late afternoon traffic along Douglas.

A total of seven tenants – including a coffee shop and a handful of offices – currently have leases signed. Stafford said Occidental is in talks with additional potential tenants and added that a possible “moving artwork” component could be a part of the plaza landscape. A parking garage is also planned for the campus.

Though are no plans as of now, Stafford said the possibility of residential properties going up on the campus isn’t far-fetched.

“When people come to Wichita in the future, we want them so say ‘have you seen Union Station in Wichita? You need to go there,’” Stafford said. “Millennials are now a majority of the workforce and that demographic is very big on the live, work and play component of an urban area. We think this is a great fit for where downtown Wichita is headed.”

Reach Bryan Horwath at 316-269-6708 or Follow him on Twitter: @bryan_horwath.

Union Station timeline

1872: The first train chugs through Wichita

1913: Construction begins on Union Station

1919 (Sept. 26): President Woodrow Wilson visit

1936: President Franklin Roosevelt visits

1975: Wichita Urban Renewal Agency purchases station

1975-1982: City and feds spend $4 million to preserve station – it sits empty

1982: Multimedia Cablevision purchases Union Station

2013 (February): Occidental Management buys Union Station

2014 (December): Construction begins on $54 million project

Target completion date: Sometime in 2017

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