Carrie Rengers

The last of Wichita’s major architectural firms not downtown is now moving there

UPDATED — The second announced tenant for Occidental Management’s repurposed Icehouse hasn’t moved in yet, but the company has already spent considerable time with the former icehouse just east of Union Station.

That’s because Alloy Architecture designed the 39,000-square-foot space, which includes 27,000 existing square feet and 12,000 square feet of new space. The company will take 7,000 square feet of that.

“As architects, we’re pretty particular about our mark and our look,” says president and principal Dave White. “A lot of the buildings we looked at were designed by other architects, and we just couldn’t do it.”

Occidental is taking the almost 14,000-square-foot third floor of the Icehouse.

It was Alloy principal Ben Walter who first had an interest in the space.

“It was kind of funny,” he says.

Walter and his wife were driving around after dinner downtown one night and passed the old icehouse at 155 and 165 S. Rock Island.

“I was like, man, I wonder what’s going on with that building?” Walter says. “That thing looks pretty cool.”

He says he knew it was in rough shape, but the 118-year-old building appealed to him.

“Next thing you know, we were meeting (Occidental) down there to look at the building.”

The Icehouse used to house ice and products that came in on trains and needed to be kept cool.

Walter says the building has great bones and a good history.

“There was a lot of strength in the existing building,” he says.

Walter says he likes the warehouse feel and the exposed structural systems of the space.

The north side of the building is a wood structure, and the south side is a freestanding concrete structure with brick exterior walls.

Occidental chairman and CEO Gary Oborny says Alloy’s modern design philosophy matches Occidental’s.

“We are really focused on putting a contemporary slant on our projects,” he says.

“They’re an innovative group,” Oborny says. “They did the Mark Arts building, and we were impressed with what they did with . . . that location.”

Of the major architecture firms in Wichita, Alloy is the only one not in downtown.

The firm started in 1981 as Howard & Helmer Architecture. White and Walter changed the name in April 2017 and say the new space is the final piece of their rebranding process.

The company has had a couple of different Rock Road addresses, including the firm’s current space at 3500 N. Rock Road, in the Landmark Office Park. There wasn’t much there when the firm moved in about 25 years ago.

“We were out in the country, and frankly that’s kind of what we were looking for at that time,” White says.

When they decided to move, they looked at Delano and the Douglas Design District before settling on downtown.

Walter says the biggest reason to move to the Icehouse is “just wanting to be a part of that commitment to revitalizing downtown.”

Like their soon-to-be next-door neighbor Cargill, which designed its new Douglas building to appeal to younger employees and new recruits, the Alloy principals care about creating a space that will appeal to a younger demographic as well.

“We really looked at all aspects, including hiring the best talent,” Walter says.

Currently, the firm has 23 employees and likely will hire one more this year.

Alloy does work on schools, offices, healthcare, some aviation and religious architecture.

White says he and Walter knew there would be challenges with a building as old as the Icehouse.

“You’re going to, quote, find some buried bodies,” he says.

That included finding buried footing and foundations from old buildings. There were basement walls not in the condition they’d hoped. There were soil and shoring issues as well.

“But that’s the main excitement behind it — that adaptive reuse,” Walter says. “Rather than throwing it away, (it’s) taking it and turning it into something grand.”

Dondlinger Construction is the contractor, and American State Bank and Trust is handling financing on the project.

Another announcement is coming for another big occupant of the building.

On the first floor, there’s 12,000 square feet left to lease.

The area around the Icehouse is “one of the stronger growth areas in downtown right now,” Walter says.

“We feel like we’re landing . . . in just an incredibly great spot,” White says.

He says the firm will move into its offices on the second floor in the first quarter of next year.

“It’s going to be a cool building, and it’s one that we’re going to be very proud to have our name on.”

White says he’s a lifelong Wichitan and has never seen this level of interest and enthusiasm for downtown.

“Frankly, we’re excited to be part of that.”