Carrie Rengers

520Commerce lofts open in Commerce Arts District

One of the model units at the new 520Commerce lofts in the Commerce Arts District.
One of the model units at the new 520Commerce lofts in the Commerce Arts District. The Wichita Eagle

The new 520Commerce lofts have opened in the Commerce Arts District, and the first seven of 24 units have been leased.

“So we had some pent-up demand for those,” owner Craig Slawson says.

“It’s a cool product, and the street’s cool.”

Slawson, a Wichita native who now lives in Denver, has been in the oil and gas business for 35 years.

He has a love of all things old, though, and in January 2014, he purchased a set of three 1920s buildings that had been part of a former broom factory.

“I liked it for a couple of different reasons,” Slawson says.

“It was a negative space that needed to be converted,” he says.

The building is a mix of brick and wood, and Slawson is a fan of brick, which is also on the street in front of the lofts.

“I can easily be charmed by brick streets,” Slawson says.

He says Wichita has quite a few brick streets, but he says, “A lot of cities do not anymore.”

Slawson says he also likes what’s happening in the district.

“It’s always a very active street.”

Through converting and improving a building, he says, “The whole neighborhood gets better.”

Most of the 34,000 square feet he owns will be for lofts. Within that, there’s a 4,000-square-foot commercial space that’s just going on the market.

Slawson says he envisions having a cafe or coffee shop, a cooperative gallery in the front and some creative space in the back. There will be maker’s space in the basement below the commercial space.

The lofts are one-bedroom and two-bedroom units ranging from $850 to $1,650 a month. They have stackable washers and dryers and appliances, cabinets and stainless-steel countertops from IKEA.

Slawson purposefully left lots of exposed brick throughout the lofts, some of which has old painting on it. For instance, in one unit with a former outside wall, there’s part of a “wholesale” sign from years ago.

“Even the beams, we didn’t sandblast them,” Slawson says.

He kept original writing on them, such as a phone number from the past.

“I like rough and refined,” Slawson says. “That’s kind of the vibe I was going for. … That adds to the artistic value of the neighborhood. Plus it’s just original, too.”

He says he likes combining old touches with refined architecture and design.

“The mix is, I think, perfect for old buildings.”

Slawson also owns side and back parking lots where tenants can park.

He hopes to have the lofts half leased within a couple of weeks.

“That’s the goal, by the end of the year.”

Slawson says he’s been traveling to Wichita once a month while working on the lofts but expects that to change to once every couple of months soon.

His focus is going to have to be on Kansas City where he now owns 400,000 square feet of “all vintage product.”

“I’m on pause (in Wichita) right now because I’ve got more than I can say grace for in Kansas City.”

Slawson says there are currently more redevelopment opportunities in Kansas City than Wichita.

“Some of the good product was already taken with Old Town,” he says of Wichita.

“Kansas City just didn’t have that yet, believe it or not.”

Slawson says he hopes and thinks downtown Wichita will continue to see a renaissance.

“You’ll start to see creative firms that have moved out east start to move back to the core.”

Slawson says creative types want to be downtown.

“And then corporate will start thinking about it and moving more.”

He acknowledges that’s not a trend everyone is on board with, though.

“I still see people moving out east, and it just bugs me to see that because I think it’s the wrong move.”

Carrie Rengers: 316-268-6340, @CarrieRengers