Politics & Government

History board says save Mead’s Corner. City Council looking at new tax to replace it

This illustration shows the four-story, 75,000-square-foot building that will replace Mead’s Corner and its parking lot at Douglas and Emporia.
This illustration shows the four-story, 75,000-square-foot building that will replace Mead’s Corner and its parking lot at Douglas and Emporia. Courtesy illustration

Wichita’s Historic Preservation Board voted Tuesday to try to save a 1910-vintage downtown building that most recently housed the Mead’s Corner Methodist coffee house.

That vote came about three hours after the City Council — which has the final say — set in motion steps to establish a special sales tax district to help pay for a developer to demolish the old building and replace it with modern office and retail space.

At issue is the two-story building at the northwest corner of Douglas and Emporia.

The building was known for the last 10 years as the site of Mead’s Corner, a popular coffee house and gathering spot run as an outreach of the First United Methodist Church downtown. The church closed the coffee ministry in July, facing a steep increase in rent from the former owners of the property.

TGC Development has acquired the rights to the property and plans to tear down the building and replace it with a four-story, 70,000-square-foot structure with offices on the top three floors and retail on the first floor.

TGC is the same company working in partnership with the city to redevelop the Spaghetti Works District and rebuild the adjacent Naftzger Park, on Douglas west of the BNSF railroad tracks.

The preservation board voted to deny permission to demolish the Mead’s Corner building after an impassioned plea from Greg Kite, president of the Historic Preservation Alliance of Wichita and Sedgwick County.

He said the building is “triple designated” on the local, state and national registers of historic places and one of 44 “contributing buildings” of the East Douglas Historic District.

“It’s the highest register status you can get,” he said.

The district was established in 2004 to preserve the architectural heritage of what was the dominant center of commerce and transportation in Wichita from 1875 to the end of World War II, Kite said.

“That’s 44 inter-related buildings that all work together as a team,” Kite said. “Losing one building begins to eat up the historic fabric of the district and there’s no turning back.”

Project architect Stan Sheldon said the new building will be designed to visually fit the district with brickwork and recessed windows of the type that were popular in the heyday of the district.

Noting that much of the project site is now a streetfront parking lot, the development would “fill a fairly good-sized hole in Douglas,” he said.

The final vote was 3-1 with two abstentions, an architect and a real-estate agent who had potential conflicts of interest.

Board member Elena Ingle said she felt the building was well worth saving.

“It’s beautiful,” she said. “I’d hate to see it go.”

The decision will almost certainly be appealed. It came shortly after the City Council voted to set a Dec. 4 hearing on a proposal to establish a special localized sales tax increase to help pay for the costs of redeveloping the site.

Under the plan presented to the council, the city would sell a public parking lot to the developer for private use and the developers would get direct and indirect tax subsidies.

Key terms of the proposal that emerged Tuesday include:

▪ The sale of a 75-space city-owned parking lot to the developers for $300,000, mostly to provide parking for the prospective office space at the site. Mayor Jeff Longwell said his understanding is that the lot, on the east side of Emporia, is little-used at present.

▪ A community improvement district that would charge an extra sales tax on purchases made in the new development. The additional sales tax would be 2 cents on the dollar for 22 years.

The add-on sales tax is projected to generate $2.2 million, most of which would go to the developer to help defray the cost of the project.

▪ The city would keep 10 percent of the increased sales tax to pay for converting Emporia from a one-way street to a two-way street to accommodate the development.

▪ Industrial revenue bonds would be issued. Those would provide about $3.3 million in property tax relief over 10 years for the developer. The bond issue would also save the developer an estimated $750,000 in sales tax on building materials, equipment and furnishings to complete the project.

Nick Esterline, the founder of the TGC partnership, promised the new building would “be more than just stucco and re-facade.”

“It’s going to be brick and glass and first-class space,” he said. “It’s going to be pretty nice when we get done with it.”

Esterline said his company has been in talks with a tenant who would like to take the third and fourth floors of the new building as office space. He declined to identify that prospective tenant because the deal isn’t final yet.

Resident Kathy Camden raised concerns about the community improvement district at the meeting.

She said the city has been overusing the localized tax increases and it’s difficult for anyone to know how much sales tax they’ll actually pay when they make purchases around town.

She also said in a lot of cases, businesses that are required to post their higher sales tax rate haven’t been doing that.

City Manager Robert Layton said he’ll have city staff look into that complaint.

(FILE VIDEO -- 2018) Evergy, the newly merged Westar Energy and Kansas City Power & Light , is giving $1.4 million to the Naftzger Park project.

Dion Lefler; 316-268-6527, @DionKansas
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