Carrie Rengers

Commerce Plaza downtown may convert to apartments

The Wichita Eagle

After much debate, Les and Courtney Ruthven are close to a decision about what to do with their Commerce Plaza building downtown.

“It looks like we’re going to go in the direction of apartment conversion,” Les Ruthven says. “That’s not written in stone. Something else may come up.”

Regardless of future plans for the space, he says for now they will close the building at the southeast corner of Douglas and Topeka.

The Ruthvens have owned the 72,400-square-foot former Montgomery Ward building since 1995.

“It’s quite an interesting building,” Ruthven says of the 1930s space.

For instance, there’s a freight elevator in addition to two regular ones, which he says is somewhat unusual for downtown.

The store closed in the late 1960s, and the building converted to offices in the 1970s.

The Ruthvens, who are psychologists, moved their Preferred Mental Health Management to the space and leased to office tenants.

“Gradually as downtown went, we lost tenants,” Ruthven says.

They sold their mental health firm to their daughters, who now have it as a division of their Family Health America. That firm moved from the building in August.

The Ruthvens also have a gallery, Mid-America Fine Arts, on the building’s third floor that will have to go as well.

Les Ruthven says they’re getting drawings and running the numbers to determine whether apartments make sense.

“We’re pretty close to doing something.”

He says they’re consulting with others, and everyone so far feels apartments would be the smart direction.

“We think there’s a tremendous demand for downtown space; we think the building would convert very well,” Ruthven says.

“Courtney and I have been believers in downtown ever since we came to Wichita in 1965. We’d like to see the downtown get back to where it was.”

With the growing number of living spaces downtown, Ruthven says, “Then we’ll get a grocery store and pharmacy and everything.”

He says he thinks offices eventually will start opening downtown again, but only after residential grows.

Then, Ruthven says, downtown could be like it used to be.

“There were people downtown, and downtown was busy,” he says.

“It could be like it was in the late 1970s. At least I hope it could be.”

Reach Carrie Rengers at 316-268-6340 or Follow her on Twitter: @CarrieRengers.