Former Zelman’s building to be turned into mixed-use development, including retail, lofts and a restaurant

WICHITA — It turns out that, as predicted, the former Zelman’s building is soon going to be seeing a lot more activity than just an estate sale.

Earlier this month, Have You Heard? reported that there’s going to be an estate sale at the 15,000-square-foot building on the northeast corner of Douglas and St. Francis on Dec. 30, 31 and Jan. 1.

Now, lawyer David Moses has a contract to sell the building where his grandfather Sam Zelman’s namesake men’s clothing store was from the 1920s to 2006.

Two Wichita developers, who prefer to remain anonymous until the deal closes next month, plan a mixed-use development at the property.

That will include a couple of retail areas and a combination restaurant and bar on the ground floor and residential lofts on the top floor.

“It’s especially exciting because it’s local developers who share the vision that our family has had for years about downtown,” Moses says.

“The fact that the development will affect a lot of people, that’s exciting. It’s something we would have loved to have done ourselves.”

Moses says the timing wasn’t right for his family.

“Now is the time to develop the corner,” he says.

The city’s new master plan for downtown influenced the developers.

“What brought us to downtown was actually the changes the downtown project had initiated,” one of the developers says.

“It just looked like this was going to be a hotbed of activity. . . . We just want to be part of that.”

One attractive feature for development is the continuation of improvements along St. Francis from the arena, where changes already have been made, to Second Street.

That includes converting the street to two-lane traffic and adding trees and other landscape features.

Wichita Downtown Development president Jeff Fluhr says the new development is a natural fit with the master plan.

“There’s a lot of pedestrian traffic between the arena and Old Town,” he says. “It would reinforce that walkability.”

He says the plan particularly focuses on the Douglas Avenue corridor.

“What’s being proposed for this site follows that plan.”

The developers expect to start construction in April and be ready to begin leasing by the end of the year or early 2012 at the latest.

One of the developers says the lofts will be the initial focus.

“That’s our primary push right now,” he says.

The restaurant and retail concepts may take longer.

“We want to find the perfect fit for that corner.”

That’s what Moses wants to see, too.

“Our family’s been committed to downtown long before there was ever a master plan,” he says.

It’s what makes selling the building hard.

“It is difficult for me, and it’s going to continue to be difficult for me, but I will take great pleasure in seeing a successful development now rather than wait and try to develop it later,” Moses says.

He thinks his family, including his grandfather, would approve.

“The fact that exciting things are happening in downtown Wichita, which has been part of our family’s life since the early 1920s, would be satisfying to them.”