Investment in downtown Wichita is impressive

One of the big projects downtown is the remodeling of the Exchange Place and Bitting buildings.
One of the big projects downtown is the remodeling of the Exchange Place and Bitting buildings.

It’s encouraging that investment in downtown Wichita is continuing – and that it is mostly privately funded. A vibrant downtown is important to the city’s image and to attracting and retaining young adults.

More than $1 billion in private and public investment has occurred downtown in the past decade. About $675 million of that investment has been privately funded, and $411 million has been public projects, according to Wichita Downtown Development Corp.

About half of the public investment was Intrust Bank Arena. After its opening in 2010, a higher percentage of the spending has been private.

Last year, downtown had about $96 million in private investment and $24 million in public spending (primarily on parking garages), according to WDDC.

Several big projects are currently underway, including the River Vista apartments along the West Bank ($38.4 million), the Exchange Place and Bitting buildings on Douglas ($66 million), and Union Station ($54 million). In addition, improvements are being made to several other buildings, including 125 N. Market.

What’s particularly exciting is that more than 800 new apartment units are in the works, including the Pinnacle Lofts & Apartments at Central and Waco. Nearly 2,000 people already live downtown, and occupancy rates are nearly 100 percent.

The city’s decision to move forward with a new library will also provide a nice boost to downtown, as will renovation plans for the Orpheum Theatre.

In addition, $100 million in other potential downtown projects are currently under consideration, said Jeff Fluhr, WDDC president.

City leaders have long recognized the value of a healthy downtown. Besides the symbolic importance of not having a lot of empty buildings, many young adults prefer an urban environment. That makes downtown important even for businesses not located there, because it can help or hurt their ability to recruit and retain young professionals.

Start-up companies – which are critical to the city’s future growth – also often prefer the dynamic work environment of downtown. For example, most of the tenants in the newly remodeled CorTen building at Douglas and Market, which had a ribbon-cutting ceremony last week, are young professionals.

There is still much work to be done downtown, and some big questions remain, including whether the city is going to renovate or replace Century II. But the progress over the past decade, especially the past five years, is impressive.