Carrie Rengers

The Douglas will begin early leasing in July; first occupancy this fall

It’s a little hard to tell from the outside, but construction is progressing on the Douglas – the formerly named Exchange Place project at Douglas and Market downtown.

The 11-story former Bitting Building (or Oil Trade Center, as it also once was known) at the northwest corner begins early leasing in July. Its 66 apartments will be ready for occupancy in October.

The building is now known as Tower 1 within the Douglas.

The rest of the project – including the nine-story, 139-apartment Exchange Place, or Tower 2, at the northeast corner and a new seven-story combination parking garage and 35 apartments, or Tower 3, to the east of Tower 2 – will be ready in the spring for a total of 240 apartments and commercial and office space.

Though the schedule and budget are what developers expected, the net result isn’t, says Scottsdale-based John McWilliams, the sole developer on the project.

It “is more than I thought it would be,” he says of the quality. “I’m really kind of blown away the way it’s turned out.”

He says he’s especially impressed with an amenity area on a rooftop of the sixth floor of Tower 3 that will be accessible to all tenants. There’s a resort-style wading pool, cabanas, fire pits, grill areas and other features surrounded by five penthouses.

“You can look at things on the plans and renderings 100 times, but nothing compares with going up and … actually standing there,” McWilliams says.

“There’s nothing else like it around here,” says Dave Wells of Key Construction, the contractor on the project. “It’s world class for Wichita.”

There will be something called Click Cafe, an internet cafe and coffee bar, but there won’t be a full restaurant as planned under original developers Real Development. Those Minnesota developers had plans but no lease for a restaurant from their home state. McWilliams says he talked to Wichita restaurateurs who advised against trying to attract diners to the top of a building.

“They all just said, ‘You’ve lost your mind if you do it.’”

There have been a number of changes along the way, with recent construction and from when the project started more than a decade ago with Real Development. When the Minnesota Guys, as they were known, had financing issues, McWilliams inherited not only some of the repair work they did and plans they’d developed but also historic buildings.

The Bitting Building/Oil Trade Center was built in 1911. Exchange Place is a 1915 building that had a major addition and renovation in 1956.

“We had a lot of correcting to do, if you will,” McWilliams says.

He says he normally builds from the ground up.

There are unforeseen hurdles “anytime you inherit something from somebody else.”

Historic renovations are “always full of surprises,” Wells says.

“The historic fabric has to be preserved at all costs,” he says.

The project is utilizing historic tax credits.

“There were lots and lots of conditions that were unforeseen,” Wells says. “So many things had to be brought up to current code.”

He says there was constant evaluation of alternatives in order to stay within a $40 million construction budget.

“It’s a give-and-take on things that go up and things that go down,” Wells says. “It’s a brand-new building inside a historic building.”

He says the result is Class A luxury apartments. Rents will range from $800 for the smallest studio units up to $2,200 for penthouses.

Features include stainless steel appliances, quartz counter tops and high-end fixtures.

“There’s hardly … two units that are alike,” Wells says.

There are eight penthouses in Tower 2 that each have a particularly unique feature.

“We saved some of the historic stairs out of the Michigan Building,” Wells says of one of the buildings that was demolished to make way for the parking garage.

Parking “is another fantastic amenity,” Wells says.

There will be public parking on the first two levels and then valet parking for tenants, who will drive to the second level for a valet to take their cars from there. No one will have access to the other three levels of parking.

Also on the second level where tenants enter there will be a mail kiosk and packaging center. Mail services can drop packages in a secure area and text tenants a code to retrieve deliveries 24 hours a day.

Other amenities include valet waste, which is a self-contained area outside tenants’ doors that a service picks up daily.

There’s also a dog wash, “which is very popular these days,” McWilliams says, along with a pet park.

There’s a free bike storage area in the basement and a storage bin area with various-size units for an extra fee.

“This will be right on site,” Wells says. “They’ll be really popular.”

There’s also a fitness center and yoga area on the third floor of Tower 2.

There also will be 4,500 square feet of retail in Tower 1, 6,000 square feet in Tower 2 and 4,800 square feet in Tower 3.

McWilliams says one of the Douglas’ best amenities is its view, particularly from the pool level looking either way down on Douglas.

“It’s just incredible,” he says.

Overall, McWilliams says he thinks the Douglas “is going to be the best product that’s in town.”

Rebranding the development was important to him, he says.

“We like to tie that name into … something that means something to the city,” McWilliams says. “The point of changing the name was really to take advantage because everybody knows Douglas.”

Wells says it’s significant that the development has one name for all three buildings.

“It brings the whole community of the Douglas together,” he says.

“It kind of brings that whole corner of downtown together.”

Carrie Rengers: 316-268-6340, @CarrieRengers

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