After a decade of explosive commercial development on south Rock Road, civic boosters here are turning their attention to K-15, Derby’s original business strip.
Incentives for property owners who want to make improvements and a pair of innovative new parks are two components of the push to revitalize the town’s west side.
“We’ve had tremendous growth along the east side of town,” said Mark Staats, president of the Derby Chamber of Commerce and a City Council member in his third term. “That is good for Derby, but I think the city is trying to concentrate on the K-15 corridor — older Derby, some people call it downtown Derby.”
“Our west end has been a huge point of study and contemplation this past year,” City Manager Kathy Sexton added. “We’ve developed a plan and now we’re in the implementation stage.”
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Rock Road, mostly rural residential a decade ago, today has become a shopping and dining destination drawing residents of surrounding towns and counties. And despite a plethora of chain restaurants and big box stores, the development shows little signs on slowing down.
Chipotle, Chick-fil-A and Hobby Lobby all opened locations there within the past year. TJ Maxx and Ross Dress for Less are expected to follow within weeks, with a Hardee’s not far behind.
Two medical facilities — Wesley Derby ER and MedExpress urgent care center — are expected to open in 2016.
Staats traces the growth to a welcoming business climate and some other factors.
The area is close to a couple of major employers: McConnell Air Force Base and Spirit AeroSystems. Once Derby’s population hit 20,000 — it’s now more than 23,200 — it became attractive to national chains, beginning with Applebee’s and Village Inn.
Derby has become a shopping and dining destination for residents of Mulvane, Rose Hill, Cowley County and elsewhere.
In addition to Derby residents spending their money here, people from Mulvane, Rose Hill, Cowley County and elsewhere started stopping in Derby rather than driving on farther north to Wichita, leading to more interest by developers.
“It’s amazing how fast something can transform,” Staats said.
It’s amazing how fast something can transform.
Mark Staats, president of the Derby Chamber, on the city’s growth
Derby officials say the population growth is no accident. They cite good schools, low property taxes, miles of biking and walking trails, and residents’ willingness to approve special sales taxes dedicated to projects like a water park and library as making their town attractive.
Reinvigorating the city’s west side now has their attention. The City Council recently passed new incentives for the area, including reducing or waiving most permit fees related to construction and renovation, demolition, signs and other matters.
“I know the fees range from $50 to $500, but those add up, especially for a small business,” said Taylour Tedder, development manager for Derby.
K-15 is home to the town’s oldest restaurant — Pizza John’s, in business since 1969 — along with a variety of other mostly small, family-owned operations. Old El Paso BBQ and Crispy’s Chicken, which started in south Wichita, recently opened on the thoroughfare.
“There are some great shops and companies along there,” Tedder said.
The city has rebranded its 30-acre industrial park, located west of K-15, as the West End Business Park. Begun in 1999, it is currently home to five tenants, including BRG Precision Products, Mid Continent Controls and Mockry and Sons Machine Co.
“The several business currently in there are really like the bright lights under the bushel basket,” Sexton said. “We’re talking about engineering and manufacturing jobs.”
Another seven lots remain available, priced at 70 cents per square foot, which Tedder said just covers the city’s cost of running water and sewer lines in. Previously difficult for large trucks to reach because of a steep railroad crossing on Cherry, that crossing has been moved to Madison and improved as part of a $1.5 million project.
Derby will probably always remain primarily a bedroom community for people who work in Wichita, but the town is also interested in growing jobs outside the hospitality sector.
That’s one of our goals: To have more people be able to work in Derby.
Taylour Tedder, development manager for Derby
“That’s one of our goals: To have more people be able to work in Derby,” Tedder said.
The first phase of the city’s new 10-acre Madison Avenue Central Park is expected to open in March. It’s on Madison, four blocks east of K-15.
It will have an event center called the Venue capable of holding more than 500 people. Another structure, called the Pavilion, will be a glass-enclosed building where people can take their lunch when it’s not being used for events. A splash pad and ADA-certified playground should open there this summer.
“It is a huge deal,” Sexton said. “We picked an older area of town, trying to use the park as a little bit of a kickstart for that area.”
Construction on a second park, called Warren Riverview Park, is scheduled to begin this fall. It will be 5.5 acres west of K-15, on the city’s former public works department site along the Arkansas River. It will hold a building called the Lodge, walking trails over rolling terrain and a canoe launch.
“It’ll be Derby’s first connection to the river, so we’re excited about that,” Tedder said.
With so much going on, it’s not surprising that Derby’s population continues to grow. Tedder said the city saw a record year of new construction last year, with 93 new single-family homes and 22 multi-family homes.
“There is a high demand from what I’ve heard,” he said. “Existing houses have been selling very quickly, almost within a week. We’re trying to encourage developers to open new areas and look at expanding existing neighborhoods.”