Construction crews, bulldozers and cranes are going to continue to be a common sight in downtown Wichita for at least the next year.
Downtown is growing.
More investment is being made in old buildings, more new buildings are being constructed and more people are flocking to live downtown, data collected by the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation shows.
“You see this neighborhood emerging. During the day, it’s driven by business. But at night, you have this whole new culture with residents coming in. You’re seeing this flipping of utilization,” said Jeff Fluhr, WDDC president.
In the last decade, Wichita has reached more than $1 billion in private and public investment in downtown.
And more than $180 million in projects are currently under construction downtown. Several of those are apartment projects that will bring more than 800 new units to Wichita.
With more residents downtown, more stores will come to meet the needs of those residents, Fluhr said.
He compares getting all the right pieces — a mix of residential, commercial and retail — to a puzzle.
Here are some of the downtown projects under construction or about to start:
1. River Vista, Riverfront and Delano Park, $38.4 million
River Vista will feature about 200 apartments plus bike and boat rentals along the river at First and McLean.
Crews broke ground on the project in July after more than two years of planning, starting with dirt work and underground sewer and utility work.
Initially, plans for River Vista included retail and possibly a hotel. But developers decided retail wasn’t feasible at that location and wanted to focus more on the demand for downtown apartments.
Amy Liebau, spokesperson for River Vista, said crews are working on a retaining wall along First Street and the river. That will take up to six months to complete.
In late spring or early summer, construction should start on the apartments, with an expected opening in the middle of 2017. Price ranges have not been released for the studio, one- and two-bedrooms and lofts.
Plans for the project include a dock where those who rent boats or those who have their own boats can access the river.
2. The Douglas (Exchange Place and Bitting Buildings), $66 million
The biggest investment in downtown is in two empty, deteriorating buildings — the pink marble Exchange Place and the white brick Bitting Building. For years, they’ve sat vacant on the northeast and northwest corners of Douglas and Market.
Now John McWilliams, a Dallas developer, is working with Key Construction to revitalize the buildings and add a parking garage and new apartment building where the former Lerner and Michigan buildings once stood.
Together, the three buildings with 240 units will be called The Douglas, said Dave Wells with Key Construction.
The Douglas will be a luxury apartment building, said Danell Butell, regional manager for Greystar property management.
It will have a rooftop deck with wading pool, grills and fire pits. There also will be a dog-washing station, she said.
Inside the apartments will be granite countertops, farmhouse kitchen sinks, stainless steel appliances and a washer and dryer.
There will be five penthouse apartments: one one-bedroom, two two-bedrooms and two three-bedrooms.
Prices will range from $825 to $1,600.
The ground floors of all the buildings — about 30,000 square feet — will be commercial space.
The 11-story Bitting Building is slated to be completed in September, with pre-leasing in late spring or early summer. It will have 66 apartments ranging from a 400-square-foot studio to an 1,100-square-foot unit.
The other buildings and the parking garage are expected to be completed in the first quarter of 2017.
Exchange Place was built in 1915. The nine-story building will have 139 apartments ranging from 450 square feet for a studio to 1,300 square feet for a two-bedroom, two-bath unit.
The new five-story building will have 35 apartments in addition to a parking garage for residents of the building and Exchange Place.
The garage will have about 300 stalls, including 66 public stalls. Most of the garage will be valet parking.
3. Union Station, $54 million
The first phase of Union Station is nearly complete.
“We want it to be a public gathering space. This site is the connector between Old Town and Intrust Arena and the Commerce Arts District,” said Chad Stafford with Occidental Management.
The renovation of the Grand Hotel, Rock Island passenger and baggage depots and the plaza area in front of the terminal building are expected to be completed by April.
Three tenants have already opened in the Grand Hotel, 801 E. Douglas: Regus, Wells Fargo and insurance agent David Kemp. Mumbai Rail Bistro is slated to open in March.
And just in time for warmer weather, vendors in front of the terminal will be able to serve people anything from tacos to burgers, Stafford said.
The company is working with the city to create an entertainment district in the plaza area so that patrons can have alcoholic beverages outside.
Developers are finalizing designs for the main terminal building and operations building on the south side of the terminal, and drawing up plans for a new 480-stall parking garage. The terminal and operations buildings will be a mix of commercial retailers, restaurants and office space.
Stafford said the company would like to start construction on those buildings within the next year.
And he said he hopes they can attract a much-wanted downtown grocer to the space.
“We have been working on a potential grocer. It’s still in flux, but that is a focus,” he said.
One goal for the project? Having it all done by the time the 2018 NCAA tournament comes to town, Stafford said.
4. 125 N. Market, $5 million
In January, a 106-foot-long New York Life sign was installed at the top of 125 N. Market, a 19-story building where New York Life insurance is a tenant.
Most of the building is office space, which is being renovated as new tenants sign leases. Just over half has been leased, said Bryce Baker, vice president of real estate for Security National Life Insurance Co. in Salt Lake City, which owns the building.
It was constructed in 1963 and was formerly the Wichita Executive Centre and SC Telecom building.
Security National took it over in 2013 and has been trying to return it to its former glory.
“You’d hear stories of its heyday. People had proms or sorority or fraternity parties there. Parents married there. There were positive touch points within the community with the building, but with the current condition, there was a gap between the reality of today and years gone by,” Baker said.
“We felt with a little bit of tender love and care, we could change the perception of the building.”
So far, Security National has renovated office tenant areas and the common areas, restrooms and elevators on several floors. It plans to spend $6.8 million on renovations, Baker said.
Four floors within 125 N. Market were originally a hotel. Baker said the company is looking at the costs for either a hotel or apartments on those floors, with a decision expected by the end of the year.
5. The Pinnacle, $6 million
Jeff Englert and Nathan Farha hope to start pre-leasing their 70 residential units at Central and Waco in March or April, with the goal of opening in mid-June.
The three-story, two-building Pinnacle Lofts & Apartments will have 33 one-bedroom lofts, 20 one-bedroom units and 17 two-bedroom units.
The Pinnacle will have several amenities, Englert says, including a bike-share program for tenants and on-site dry cleaning dropoff.
It also will have a clubhouse with a wet bar, covered parking, Internet included in rent and a washer and dryer in every unit.
The apartments will have a contemporary design.
“One of the main things we liked about this location was the proximity to downtown and the park and river corridor,” Englert said.
“We feel like it’s the best of both worlds there. And it’s one of the first new construction, ground-up apartments downtown.”
Rent pricing hasn’t been released.
6. Flats 324 expansion, $7 million
The Flats 324 apartments opened in 2010 in the old Wichita High School. The original 68 units at 324 N. Emporia are now getting 72 additional units in new construction.
“Downtown still has a tremendous market for housing. We had a vacant parking lot that wasn’t being used, and it’s more efficient for management to have more units,” said developer Dave Burk.
“It was just a natural. Interest rates are low. Everything is positive for the project.”
Amenities include a swimming pool, pet park, dog-washing station, gated access, options for covered parking, an expanded exercise area and a clubhouse.
Burk says they plan to start pre-leasing in March and to finish construction at the end of May. The new building will have one- and two-bedroom contemporary style apartments.
Rent pricing hasn’t been released.
7. 520 Commerce, $3 million
An artsy neighborhood atmosphere is what drew Denver’s Epoch Developments to invest in 520 Commerce.
Work started in October on the 24 lofts, work studios and offices in the former U.S. Supply buildings, said Craig Slawson, Epoch’s manager.
The project is slated to be complete in June.
While developing the property, Epoch has focused on recycling as much material as possible, keeping the original elevators and ironwork inside.
“We’re keeping it kind of rough,” Slawson said.
The apartments, which will be priced under $1,000, will include IKEA appliances and locally made custom cabinets. They will also have large windows, exposed brick walls and timber, Slawson said.
Pre-leasing for the apartments will begin in March. Pre-leasing has started for the commercial spaces.
Slawson said Epoch is looking for a gallery and a cafe, coffee shop or bakery for the space.
These projects are planned but not under construction.
▪ Wichita Orpheum Theatre, $15 million
▪ Douglas Ave Underpass Renovation, n/a
▪ St. Francis and Commerce street improvements, n/a
▪ Commerce Arts District parking, $950,000
▪ Water Street Lofts, $9.5 million
▪ Central Library and Advanced Learning Center, $30 million
▪ Market Centre Apartments, n/a
Source: Wichita Downtown Development Corporation