Smoothie King and two other businesses to open in former Rock Island Depot space

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.”

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You don’t say

“I need him to narrow that down. Maybe cut a couple of more hours.”

– Mayor Carl Brewer on the success of downtown development, which he says causes Wichita Downtown Development Corp. president Jeff Fluhr to get only about five hours of sleep most nights

SBA office to move to the Garvey Center using new streamlined design process

Wayne Bell, district director of the Small Business Administration.

WICHITA — The government is better known for red tape than streamlined processes, but the General Services Administration is working on that, and a change in offices for the Small Business Administration is going to offer something of a test case.

The SBA’s Wichita district office is moving from 271 W. Third St., where the IRS is, to the Page Court Building at the Garvey Center at 220 E. Douglas.

Before the move can happen, there has to be a design phase, which could determine everything from the tint of the windows to security systems in the new office.

“Normally, the process would take … 60 days or more,” says Wayne Bell, the SBA’s district director.

The GSA has a new design intent drawing process that will convene everyone involved in the move — contractors, designers, the SBA, the GSA, a representative for the landlord and anyone else connected with the project.

“You’re going to have all of the players in the room,” Bell says. “With this approach, everything should be complete within a three-day timeframe. It’s a really, really good idea.”

The old way of doing things involved sending drawings to the GSA, then the SBA, which would make changes before sending it back to the GSA. Then the contractor would get the drawings after a protracted period.

“So it could take months,” Bell says.

The design intent drawing creates a condensed timeframe where there’s an on-the-spot rough draft of the SBA’s needs that gets refined immediately with everyone present.

“This is very new,” Bell says. “So it’s going to be kind of an on-the-job learning process.”

The meetings will take place over a three-day period in late October at the Wichita Downtown Development Corp.’s design innovation center.

“What we try to do in that space is make resources available,” says WDDC president Jeff Fluhr.

That includes conference calling and video conferencing.

“We’re thrilled they’re willing to take the opportunity,” Fluhr says of the SBA and GSA. He says the attitude is “let’s walk through it and see what we learn from it.”

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Garvey Center to build 36-unit apartment complex downtown at First and Waco

WICHITA — In another sign of recovery – both for Wichita and downtown in particular – the Garvey Center is going to build new apartments.

“We’re going to be constructing 36 new apartment units at the corner of First and Waco,” says Garvey Center manager Larry Weber.

The city owns half the parking lot that’s at the southeast corner, and the Garvey Center owns the other half.

Weber expects the project will take about a year to build after the city approves selling its land.

“The thing that’s significant about it is it’s adding new residential into our downtown,” says Jeff Fluhr, president of the Wichita Downtown Development Corp.

Fluhr says Builders Inc., which owns the Garvey Center, and its CEO, Mike Garvey, were some of the first to step up to help pay for a $100,000 study of downtown that showed that more residential is needed. Fluhr says more living areas in turn help meet retail and restaurant needs, which also were part of the plan.

City Council member Janet Miller agrees that the new apartments are likely to help with the ripple effect.

“That brings more services, more retail, more entertainment options.” All of that may eventually lead to a full-scale grocery store for the city’s core, she says, “which is what everybody wants.”

The Garvey Center already has 155 apartments at 250 Douglas Place.

“We’re 100 percent (occupied) on those, and the demand is such that more are needed,” Weber says.

Parking will be within the Garvey Center’s garage.

While other apartments and condos have become available downtown in recent years, none has been built from the ground up.

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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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Robert Eyster purchases the Board of Trade building and plans another renovation

WICHITA — The Board of Trade building at 120 S. Market is the latest acquisition for nascent downtown developer Robert Eyster.

“He’s planning on doing a complete remodel with it,” says Michael Ramsey, who is working with Eyster on several downtown projects.

They’re renovating and repurposing the Zelman building and the Victoria Park Apartments. They’ve also recently acquired property along Douglas Avenue between Main and Market streets where developer Kelly Donham previously had plans.

The Board of Trade renovation will be in conjunction with plans Eyster and Ramsey have for the Douglas property.

Ramsey won’t share all the details yet, but he says, “It’s following the Goody Clancy plan of changes they feel should be happening downtown.”

Part of Ramsey’s hesitation to talk just yet is due to potential city involvement.

“We’re really trying to work with the city through the project.”

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Shop24 eyes Wichita market for its 24-hour automated convenience stores

UPDATED — Candy bars, cigarettes and DVDs soon may not be the only things Wichitans can buy in a vending machine.

Columbus, Ohio-based Shop24 wants to bring its 24-hour automated convenience stores here.

“We are currently the world’s only totally automated and robotic convenience store,” says Mike Weigel, chief sales and marketing officer.

“The units can be configured to hold anything and everything.”

The units, which require 140 square feet, can hold up to 200 items ranging from one ounce to eight pounds.

“We have stores that actually dispense gallons of oil and antifreeze,” Weigel says.

Typical items include such things as sandwiches, milk, bandages and cookie dough.

Weigel says stocking depends on needs of an area.

Customers, who have to exit their vehicles to shop, can pay with cash, credit or debit cards.

The units — there are more than 200 internationally — are enclosed in bullet-proof glass. Weigel says there’s never been a successful break-in.

“We’re very proud of the safety record.”

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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.”

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Wichita Downtown Development Corp.’s Jeff Fluhr to join Thursday Live Chat

WICHITA — Like the new downtown plan? Hate it? Don’t know about it? Then this is for you.

Our Thursday Live Chat this week is going to include special guest Jeff Fluhr, president of the Wichita Downtown Development Corp.

We’re meeting at 10:30 a.m. Thursday at Mead’s Corner — downtown, of course — and Fluhr will take questions in person and online.

Please join us either at Mead’s Corner, which is at 430 E. Douglas, or online at Kansas.com.

You don’t say

“It’s always good to find out that you’re not terminal.”

Wichita Downtown Development president Jeff Fluhr’s comment Wednesday after an urban planning consultant said some other cities’ downtowns are beyond repair