A former fire station on Topeka Avenue downtown will become a shared workspace for artists and business startups after Wichita State University objected to Butler Community College’s proposal for a culinary arts school there.
The Wichita City Council voted to accept the proposal from Commerce Street Development Partners LLC., which will pay $100,000 for the 16,000-square-foot property at 500 S. Topeka and redevelop it into a shared-space concept called FireWorx.
“I hope it will do what it’s designed to do and truly be a catalyst for that area,” said Mayor Jeff Longwell.
The council didn’t have much choice.
Of the original five proposals for the building, a staff committee had narrowed it to two — FiireWorx and a proposal from a development company that wanted to renovate the building and lease it to Butler Community College for a $4 million culinary arts school.
But Butler withdrew its proposal after the college got a cease-and-desist letter from Wichita State University objecting to the potential competition for students.
“Any attempt by your institution to try and locate a Hospitality and Culinary Arts program to downtown Wichita is not approved by WSU,” said the letter signed by WSU General Counsel David Moses. “Offering such a program in Sedgwick County is directly adverse to the efforts by WSU and WSU Tech as they explore hospitality programmatic options.”
FireWorx has a total renovation cost of about $1 million.
It offers a mix of shared work space and dedicated lease space for artists and startup businesses, according to the development proposal.
It’s expected to have a cafe, art gallery and shared work spaces on the first floor, with leased space on the mezzanine and second floors.
Basic rental will be $100 a month for shared space and $500 and up for dedicated lease spaces.
Partners in the development include other LLCs that trace ownership back to Alan Banta, president of Trans Pacific Oil, along with company CEO Kunihiro Kawamura and vice president of finance Reilo Trigo; and Michael Snyder and Bruce Rowley, principal partners of RSM Marketing.
The various partnerships own several other downtown buildings.