Al Wakil already owns a substantial amount of commercial real estate in Wichita, but now he’s getting into the venue business in a big way.
First, he purchased the Grand Chapel in February for $299,000.
“I thought it was a unique building, and I loved it,” he says of the Broadway property just north of Murdock.
Wakil is resurfacing the parking lot, fencing the property, painting inside and out and doing other repairs.
“All that good stuff that goes with capital improvements.”
Though Wakil estimates he could spend about $150,000 in improvements, he says he’s willing to spend more if necessary.
“It’s an unlimited budget,” he says. “Until I stop, I guess.”
Wakil is doing an even larger project at Seneca Square Shopping Center, a center at 31st and Seneca that he purchased last year.
The center has had some major changes in recent years with Wal-Mart opening a Neighborhood Market there a few years ago and Planet Fitness just recently opening there.
Wakil plans a new venue and a private club on the northwest portion of the former mall.
“It’s going to be one effort for both locations,” he says.
“There is nothing like it in Wichita.”
The 10,800-square-foot upstairs portion of the business, which is where the Diamond Head restaurant once was, will be a venue that can be rented for private parties of all sorts.
“The venue is not going to be just for weddings,” Wakil says. “It’s going to be more like a sophisticated Chuck E. Cheese’s.”
He doesn’t want people to get the wrong idea, though. Wakil says the room can be used in a variety of ways, in part thanks to movable partitions.
There could be fancy adult parties or smaller, private rooms with changing themes – think princesses or Mickey Mouse – for children’s parties.
There’s a full kitchen for food preparation for larger parties, such as weddings.
And there will be a playroom for kids to be in while their parents are at events. There will be monitors so parents can watch their children instead of hanging out with them the whole time like they would at Chuck E. Cheese’s.
Wakil says he’s learned this is a good idea from having his own three children.
He’s also planning a gift shop, which can supply goody bags for parties.
Downstairs, Wakil plans a 9,400-square-foot private club similar to the Candle Club.
“I want to make it (a) destination, not a drive-by.”
The space once was a nightclub that sometimes had some issues.
“That’s why I don’t want it to be a nightclub,” Wakil says.
He’s going to offer day passes to the club for anyone who uses the venue.
A key feature for both places will be the view out the back of the building with a wall of windows.
Wakil is transforming the space with a garden area and water features.
“It is very unexpected,” he says of what people will find.
It will be “like you’re in a different world,” he says. “When you look at it it’s just kind of eye candy.”
He says there will be painting along the back walls that gives the appearance of lush vegetation.
It’s a vision that’s only beginning to materialize.
“Nobody can see what I’m talking about.”
There will be a series of decks where people can have coffee or smoke hookahs.
There will be a table for two amid a water feature for special dates, engagements and wedding photos. The area will have a private server.
Wakil, an Iraq native who has been in Wichita since 1978, is going to have what he describes as a European bistro at the club, which will be a cross between a Mediterranean cafe and an Applebee’s with light appetizers.
Neither of Wakil’s new businesses have names yet.
He’s planning for them to open this fall around the same time the Grand Chapel reopens.
Wakil says he’s interested in more than one venue because the Grand Chapel is limited to 250 people.
“This here you can have almost 500 people,” he says of the Seneca Square venue.
The club will hold another couple hundred or so.
It may sound like a lot to take on at once, but Wakil is unfazed.
“It’s just a process.”
And one that will be worth it, he says.
“It’s going to be fantastic.”