Robert Eyster purchases the former Protection One building with plans for new residential and commercial development

WICHITA — It’s getting to the point you can’t call Robert Eyster and Michael Ramsey nascent developers any longer.

Eyster has purchased the former Protection One building at the northwest corner of First and Market, which makes the sixth downtown property he’s bought to redevelop in less than a year.

“In the process of looking for buildings that have kind of been neglected or buildings that are too big or too small for people . . . we’ve looked at probably all the buildings downtown,” Ramsey said.

That’s how they found the 7-story, 171,000-square-foot Protection One building, which the former Kansas Gas and Electric Co. built in 1953.

“That building has got some very dynamic bones to it,” Ramsey said. “It just spoke to us.”

He and Eyster are renaming the building the Lux and creating luxury apartments and possible condos along with commercial on the first two floors.

“It sounds like a really exciting development,” said Patrick Ahern of Grubb & Ellis/Martens Commercial Group, who was one of the agents who handled the deal.

Ahern, who specializes in downtown properties, said, “More people living downtown will attract more retail and give more vibrance to downtown and that area in particular.”

He said the sale of that much Class B downtown property “potentially helps the market because it’s less space for other buildings to compete with.”

Ahern and Steve Martens represented Protection One, and Marty Gilchrist and Grant Tidemann of J.P. Weigand & Sons represented Eyster.

Eyster has already purchased and is redeveloping the former Zelman building, the Board of Trade building, Victoria Park Apartments, the two-story building at 100 S. Market and Kelly Donham’s former property on Douglas between Main and Market.

With the help of Kansas City, Mo., architect El Dorado Inc., which designed the Finn Lofts on Commerce Street, Eyster and Ramsey hope to use a lot of the 1950s architectural elements already in the mid-century modern building. That includes light fixtures, door knobs and railings.

“They have actually cataloged everything they could in the KGE building in the hopes we . . . could repurpose those elements,” Ramsey said.

Farha Construction is the contractor and Builders Inc. is managing the building.

“This is really going to be a unique facility,” said Larry Weber of Builders Inc.

Apartments will start at $800 for one-bedroom units.

“I am really looking forward to getting feedback from people as to what they want,” Weber said.

Jeremy Luginbill of Lifeboat Creative, Eyster and Ramsey’s advertising agency, said part of a nontraditional marketing approach they plan is to query potential residents about what they’re looking for in downtown living.

“We’re doing a heavy social media campaign for this.”

He says potential tenants include professionals, families and empty nesters.

“What we’re seeing with this project is the opportunity to attract more families into downtown,” said Jeff Fluhr, president of the Wichita Downtown Development Corp.

Also, Fluhr said as downtown businesses try to recruit and retain young professionals, this urban living can be an important factor.

“Literally, downtown becomes their living room.”

Ramsey said the building will be ready to occupy within 16 months. How many condos that includes “depends upon what the market is at that time.”

Condos potentially will be on the seventh floor, where Ahern said there’s a fireplace, balcony and boardroom.

“It’s like something out of ‘Mad Men,’ ” he said. “It could be really slick.”

The building also has walkways to other nearby buildings along with several options for parking, including at an adjacent parking garage that Ramsey said he and Eyster have an agreement with.

He noted that the building is within walking distance of the river, the new downtown YMCA, the Wichita Orpheum Theatre and Old Town.

“We’re trying to foster community living within downtown,” Ramsey said.

Luxurious community living, that is.

“What we are trying to do is introduce higher luxury-style apartments into downtown Wichita,” Ramsey said.

That’s part of the reference to the Lux name. Ramsey said “lux” also is an international unit for luminescence.

Ramsey, who is trying to get the building on the National Register of Historic Places — in part for the tax credits — said he and Eyster are tying back to the history of the building with the Lux name.

“That building just radiates energy and history.”