UPDATED — Some people buy sports cars or take extravagant trips for their midlife crises, but Neil Bhakta is choosing to share his with all of Wichita by opening three new businesses.
The Smoothie King partner is planning his fourth Smoothie King site, this time downtown in the former Rock Island Depot, where he also plans a new restaurant and venue space.
“This is going to be my midlife crisis project right here,” Bhakta says.
“I love the building that we’re going into.”
Old Town Martini, which was the last business there, closed in 2009.
Occidental Management purchased the building earlier this year as part of its purchase of the Union Station campus. The company plans a mixed-use development, which will have retail and office space and possibly residential as well. Smoothie King is the first announced tenant.
“It’s good to get the first one done,” says Chad Stafford, Occidental president. “We’re excited to get rolling down there.”
Stafford thinks Smoothie King will do well.
“It’s going to do terrific,” he says. “Certainly there’s a lot of traffic. … That site, as it begins to develop and get rolling, we’ll have a lot of visitors to it.”
Bhakta says Occidental will restore the exterior of the building.
“It’s going to be a nice project.”
It’s one he says he previously wouldn’t have even considered.
In the dozen or so years of having Smoothie King, Bhakta says, “We never looked at downtown.”
That’s even though he grew up in the area.
“We actually left,” Bhakta says. “Downtown in the ’90s, we didn’t have much faith in it … coming back.”
That’s what has happened, though, he says.
“What they’ve done downtown is amazing.”
Bhakta says Jeff Fluhr and Jason Gregory at the Wichita Downtown Development Corp. were key to his decision to locate downtown.
“This process got started with me talking with Jason and Jeff,” he says. “They were really good help.”
Smoothie King will be in the front of the building and have a drive-through.
“It would be a convenient place for people to get their nutrition,” Bhakta says.
His lease is contingent on the drive-through, which hasn’t been approved yet, but Bhakta says he doesn’t expect it to be an issue.
There also will be a restaurant in the back of the building, though Bhakta isn’t sharing details yet.
“I want to make sure I’ve got my ducks in a row,” he says. “It’s going to be exciting. … It’s going to be something different.”
Bhatka will move his Smoothie King offices to the building’s second floor, which is where he’ll also have venue space for company meetings and small parties.
There are several partners in the deal, including Hamendra Bhakta, Shetal Bhakta and Chetan Bhakta, none of whom are related to Neil Bhakta. He says they all came from the same region of India.
Bhakta says he and his partners want to recapture the feel of a depot in the space.
“We want to do our part on the interior.”
He and Occidental both are using Spangenberg Phillips Tice Architecture as the architect for the interior and exterior.
Bhakta says Stafford is “a very progressive landlord.”
“They’re putting in quite a bit of capital.”
Stafford and Occidental broker Stephanie Wiens handled the deal along with Don Piros of Landmark Commercial Real Estate.
Because the building is on the National Register of Historic Places, Bhakta says there are some extra hoops to jump through, so it may take as many as five months to open.
He’s excited to be a new part of downtown, though.
“To see downtown come back, it’s awesome.”
Stafford says there’s much more to come.
“We’ve got a number of things in the works,” he says.
“Once we are able to work through the entire plan and unveil where we’re taking this project, it’s going to be a very good amenity for the people who end up working, living and playing in that area. From that standpoint, we’re very excited.”