Optometric Billing Solutions to quadruple its space with new Maize building

UPDATED — Less than a decade after starting Optometric Billing Solutions in a home basement, sisters Branda Barton and Brooke Armstrong are making their third move to a new building.

At 21,000 square feet, this one should last a while. The sisters are in negotiations to buy the former SecureNet building at 10501 W. Hampton Lakes in Maize.

Though they say the space is nice and that the $1.6 million in industrial revenue bonds the city is giving them in the next three years will be helpful, Armstrong says they would have had the same things in Wichita.

“To be honest, it really was the city of Maize,” she says of the decision to locate there.

“The sense of community in that place was amazing,” Armstrong says. “Branda and I … really left there with the sense and impression of community and values. Their whole culture just seemed really in line with what we value as a corporation.”

City Administrator Richard LaMunyon says the city felt the same about them.

“We just really kind of hit it off,” he says. “They were just excited about their business. You could tell that they were professional in what they were doing.”

He says that’s important because the company will be one of the larger private ones in Maize, and he expects it to be there for some time to come.

“It has great potential for growth.”

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Wichita State University selects developer, contractors and architect for new housing

WICHITA — Wichita State University is one step closer to new campus housing, which is a goal president John Bardo established not long after his arrival last year.

Spokesman Joe Kleinsasser confirms that Memphis-based EdR has been chosen as the developer for new 700-bed campus housing.

Farha Construction, in partnership with Dondlinger and Sons Construction, is the contractor, and Howard & Helmer Architecture is the architect.

Kleinsasser says the final contracts aren’t signed.

“It’s a matter of ironing out details,” he says.

Look for more information soon.

Trove Total Body Studio to move to Renfro

WICHITA — A year after opening at the Finn Lofts, Janelle Robertson has decided to move her Trove Total Body Studio to the new Renfro at 612 E. Douglas.

“I am on the move,” she says.

Robertson is the first commercial tenant in the building, and she’s taking one of the live-work spaces but will use both areas for her business instead of living there.

Developers Robert Eyster and Michael Ramsey, in collaboration with Farha Construction, recently finished converting the former Victoria Park Apartments into the Renfro.

The building, which is named for a hotel that was once there, has 20 apartments, including several live-work units.

Robertson says she thinks her expanded space at the Renfro will be ideal.

“Just the configuration for me and what I’ve been doing here so far just fit better,” she says.

Trove offers facials, massage, chemical peels, body treatments and micro dermabrasion.

“Really just about everything you’d want in a spa,” Robertson says.

On the second floor of her studio — what typically would be the bedroom in the live-work arrangement — Robertson will have massages and facials.

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Renfro apartments ready to debut

UPDATED — There will be more than art on display downtown for the Oct. 26 Final Friday.

Developers Robert Eyster and Michael Ramsey, in collaboration with Farha Construction, also are introducing their new Renfro apartments, including some gallery space in the first floor hallway of the historic building.

The property was built at 612 E. Douglas in 1908 and once was home to the Renfro hotel. Most recently, it was Victoria Park Apartments.

“It’s a building that needed a lot of love,” Ramsey says.

He applied for the building to be on the National Register of Historic Places and was able to use historic tax credits in renovating it.

“We love being part of giving a building another 100 years of life,” says contractor Ted Farha. “There’s something pretty special about that.

“When it comes to sustainability or green building, really, I don’t think there’s anything greener than taking an existing building and bringing it up to date.”

There are 20 units, including a few live-work units with metal spiral staircases between the work and living spaces. There also are two commercial spaces in the front of the building. Those spaces are still available. Four of the apartments, including one live-work space, are leased.

There are unique touches throughout the building, such as original ceiling tins in some apartments, a garage door in one back unit and glass brick where another garage door once was.

Ramsey says he, Eyster and Farha Construction incorporated a lot of what they learned from renovating the Zelman Lofts building just down the street.

“The things that worked we tried to keep,” he says.

That includes open areas and ambient light.

“People will put up with smaller living space if we give them lots of storage, lots of shared light, lots of open area … and we give them nice kitchens and nice bathrooms.”

They found substantial savings by having Farha build cabinets in each of the units instead of buying them.

There are further savings for renters with high efficiency heating and air and LED lighting.

“We employed all the current technology that’s available to make this building as green as possible without going through . . . all the LEED Certification stuff,” Farha says. “It’s really satisfying to be able to do that. To create great living spaces for people.”

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Farha Construction moves to former Woolf Brothers building for next Eyster-Ramsey project

WICHITA — It’s customary for contractors to move from job to job, but lately Farha Construction has been moving from office to office, too.

“This is very unusual,” says Ted Farha.

In October, the company moved into the Lux, which is the former Protection One building at First and Market that Farha Construction is helping developers Robert Eyster and Michael Ramsey convert into condos.

“It was good to be in there for a while,” Farha says. “There was a lot of investigative work to do there.”

This week, the company moved into another Eyster-Ramsey property at the former Woolf Brothers department store building at the southwest corner of Douglas and Market. The address used to be 111 S. Market, but they’ve changed it to 135 E. Douglas.

“Everybody knows where Douglas is,” Farha says. “Douglas is just the main artery … in downtown.”

Ramsey says the idea is “to breathe some life into that corner down there. Just having somebody in those buildings is going to help that area.”

Farha Construction is taking two floors of the four-story building.

“We have a lot of work in the neighborhood, and we have a lot more work to plan,” Farha says. “It’s very convenient to be within walking distance of multiple projects. Not that we don’t want to work in the suburbs.”

Ramsey and Eyster are working on plans for a grouping of buildings they want to redevelop near Douglas and Market.

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Developers Robert Eyster and Michael Ramsey rename Victoria Park Apartments the Renfro and buy Newton property

WICHITA — Developers Robert Eyster and Michael Ramsey, in collaboration with Farha Construction, have started demolition work in preparation for restoring the former Victoria Park Apartments.

They’re renaming the 1908 building the Renfro after a hotel that used to be there. A faded “Renfro Hotel” is still visible on the east side of the building at 612 E. Douglas.

“I just said, ‘How about the Renfro? That’s kind of cool,’” Ted Farha says of renaming the building.

They’re planning 20 apartments – including five two-story spaces that will double as living and office space – and two retail or office spaces along Douglas.

Ramsey says the project will be a historic renovation.

“We’re going to get it on the national historic register,” he says. “It ensures the longevity of the building. It also opens up the opportunity to use … national tax credits if we choose to use them.”

Farha expects renovation to be complete in five or six months.

Eyster and Ramsey have purchased another historic property in Newton.

“We’re converting a medical building into some apartments there as well,” Farha says.

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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.

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You don’t say

“I’ll tell you, both the writer and the photographer who came to town fell in love with Wichita.”

Farha Construction’s Ted Farha on a national story about Wichita (particularly focusing on the Finn Lofts he helped build) in the October issue of Dwell magazine


Developers Robert Eyster and Michael Ramsey have plans for Kelly Donham’s former hole in the ground

UPDATED — Developers Robert Eyster and Michael Ramsey have added another downtown project to their plate.

“We took over the pit,” Ramsey says of the hole in the ground that developer Kelly Donham previously owned.

The property is on Douglas Avenue between Main and Market streets.

“I can’t tell you exactly what we’re going to do right now,” Ramsey says.

He does, though, say that it will be a multiuse building.

“It’s going to be in conjunction with some other things going on . . . on Market Street.

The developers are about to acquire more property on South Market Street.

It’s close to where the hole in the ground is, but it’s not adjacent to it.

Donham still owns the building where the Woolf Brothers department store used to be at Market and Douglas.

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Alltite and MobileCal owner closes on purchase of one-time livery station downtown

WICHITA — Alltite and MobileCal founder Tom Smith has closed on his deal to buy a 14,000-square-foot building at 141 S. Rock Island near The Wichita Eagle.

“We’ve got a lot of customers and employees coming in from all over the country, and I wanted to have a neat, interesting property,” Smith says. “I really like old buildings with a lot of character. It’s just got the cool factor.”

In January, Have You Heard? first reported Smith had a contract on the building, which was built in 1901 as a livery stable in conjunction with the adjacent Union Station.

“The neat thing about the building is there’s a sliding door from the ice house next door,” Smith says.

He says blocks of ice and other refrigerated goods would be loaded onto horse-drawn carriages stationed in his building and then be delivered around Wichita.

Smith currently leases space on the east side for his companies.

Alltite sells industrial bolting equipment and services to heavy industrial plants, and Smith’s MobileCal is a mobile calibration lab he developed to service industrial equipment on site.

Smith says he plans to create a loft-style office for his new space.

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