Recognizing that downtown redevelopment shouldn’t come at the expense of historic preservation, the Wichita City Council should deny the WaterWalk developers’ request to demolish three nearby apartment buildings.
The nearly 90-year-old Leona, Naomi and Ellington apartments may not be the best-known or best-loved buildings in the inner city, and they obviously can’t continue to be the scene of fires and other trouble.
But surely the bulldozer isn’t the only tool available to secure the sites at 507 and 509 S. Market and 514 S. Main and to give the corner what WaterWalk LLC president David Redfern described as a “better look.”
Just 17 months ago, the neoclassical buildings were being eyed for a $6 million renovation plan by Kansas City-based developers involving affordable studio and one-bedroom apartments.
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So city staff’s recommendation to set aside the Historic Preservation Board’s denial and to allow the demolition in the absence of “prudent and feasible alternatives” seems sudden.
It also shows disrespect for the reasons that led to the structures’ inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places and the Register of Historic Kansas Places – “local significance in the areas of architecture” and “community planning and development,” to quote a 2013 Kansas Historical Society news release.
According to their National Register of Historic Places listings, the Ellington building is the only remaining property by John H. Wenzel (1869-1943) in the downtown area and the Leona and Naomi apartments, built by Oliver Jackson Mourning (1875-1952), “represent residential development in the city, reflecting the changing domestic living patterns in Wichita.”
The WaterWalk and Main Street Apartments USA are buying the three buildings; financing to rehabilitate the structures has been elusive, according to city documents.
But downtown revitalization is supposed to give new life to Wichita’s old buildings, not add to the already too long list of historic structures lost to demolition.
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman