Downtown buildings may become a school
Wichita plans to commit 500 city-owned parking spaces downtown to a developer that wants to open a medical school, culinary arts school, student housing facility and hotel in the heart of the city.
The plans are included in a memorandum of understanding approved by the Wichita City Council on Tuesday. The agreement is between the city and Sudha Tokala’s Douglas Market Development LLC. It’s an unofficial agreement that outlines expected development and incentives and can be changed at any time. So far, it provides the most detailed sketch of the project that has been made public.
The four buildings that Tokala plans to renovate are vacant. Jason Gregory, executive vice president of Downtown Wichita, said the development will be “catalytic.”
“This substantial investment as well as the potential for significant job creation is a win-win for both downtown and our community,” Gregory said. “This is another key project that can further the implementation of Project Downtown.”
Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell said Tokala’s development could be more important to the city’s core than the new baseball stadium.
“This has the potential to change the dynamics of our city more than any other project we’ve seen in the core in a long, long time — including maybe even the baseball stadium,” Longwell said. “That’s how dynamic this is.”
The agreement calls for the developer to open a school of osteopathic medicine — the Kansas Health Science Center — in the former State Office Building, 130 S. Market and 230 E. William. It would open in August 1, 2022. Across the street, a 119-unit student housing facility would open in the former Sutton Place office building.
At Douglas and Broadway, the Broadway Plaza Building would open as a full-service hotel no later than December 31, 2021.
The former Henry’s building on the northeast corner of William and Broadway would be turned into a culinary arts school.
Tokala’s company would agree to invest no less than $75 million for building improvements on the four buildings and create 324 net new jobs with a minimum annual salary of $55,000 within five years of completion.
In exchange for the building upgrades, Wichita would offer industrial revenue bonds for sales tax exemption for all four buildings and 10 years of tax abatement for the Kansas Health Science Center and student housing facility. The city would also tack on up to 2% added sales tax for 22 years on all sales at the former Henry’s building as part of a community improvement district. The city would get 10% of the added tax collected.
The developer said the projects will require up to 900 parking spaces eventually, according to the memorandum of understanding.
Up to 500 of those spaces would come from city lots and garages and would include the parking garage on the southwest corner of William and Market, the parking garage on the northwest corner of William and Emporia and surface parking at the Broadway and William lot, according to the agreement.
Elyse Mohler, spokesperson for the city, said the city plans to collect revenue from the spaces made available to Tokala’s company. The city can’t say at this point what the developer would pay because that’s still being negotiated as part of a final development agreement. That agreement is expected to go before the City Council within 120 days.
“Parking, just like all the other terms in the MOU, will be negotiated in detail before returning to Council with a proposed development agreement,” Mohler said in an email. “What’s important to note is that the City did not ‘give’ the developers 500 parking spots.”
The commitment of 500 downtown parking spaces comes during a period of uncertainty about parking downtown.
That’s because the city has several projects in the works that are designed to attract more people to the area.
Longwell was not immediately available for comment Tuesday evening, but he said at the council meeting that he sees a different kind of shortage that might be coming to downtown: cranes.
“Between Fidelity and this major project, I’m not sure there’s enough cranes to go around in this city,” Longwell said. “It’s a problem that we haven’t had to deal with in a very long time, to see the kinds of investments that are coming into our city.”
Here are some of the recent city decisions and proposals that could affect parking downtown.
▪ Ballpark village: A $75 million ballpark across the river from downtown is expected to draw double the visitors but has roughly half of the parking of Lawrence Dumont Stadium, which was torn down. Private development is planned near the stadium, and its on-street parking will also be limited.
▪ WaterWalk: A foot-bridge spanning the river would connect the ballpark to the WaterWalk area — and downtown parking. The plan for the ballpark village relies heavily on existing spaces. But some of that parking could be taken up by hundreds of King of Freight employees moving in across the river to the former Gander Mountain Building. A vote on that move is expected at the next council meeting.
▪ Parking meters: Last week, a plan was presented to a city committee that would turn almost all parking downtown into paid parking and more than triple the current cost. It would also use a permit system to make the neighborhoods west of the ballpark parking off limits to non-residents.
▪ Fidelity Bank: The Wichita-based bank announced plans last week to remove three downtown parking lots, including one it just bought from the city, to make room for a new building. It is expected to build a 505-stall gated garage at the southeast corner of Market and English that will require a badge to enter.
▪ Wichita Riverfront LP: The developer group that bought land around the ballpark for $1 an acre is also expected to purchase a large parking lot north of Drury Hotel Plaza Broadview.