Sources: Occidental Management signs letter of intent to buy Union Station

WICHITA — After about five years of courtship with various suitors, it looks like Union Station finally may be engaged again.

Sources say Occidental Management has signed a letter of intent to buy the downtown property that Cox Communications owns and where it previously had its Kansas headquarters.

“We continue to have discussions with interested parties,” says Jay Allbaugh, Cox’s vice president of government and public affairs for the Cox Central Region.

Allbaugh won’t say anything further, and Occidental chairman and CEO Gary Oborny says he can’t comment on the situation.

Union Station and its 111,000-square-foot campus first went on the market in spring 2008, about a year after Cox left for bigger offices at 901 George Washington Blvd.

The list price for the former train station at 701 E. Douglas is $6.4 million.

Clay Center businessman Phil Frigon’s $5.5 million, 2009 deal to buy the campus to create a mixed-use development collapsed when he failed to reach an agreement for the city to lease parking from him for Intrust Bank Arena.

A mixed-use development that potentially would include retail, office and residential space and would help further revitalize downtown has been the top hope of potential uses for Union Station.

Oborny and Occidental have a history of converting older properties into new developments, most notably with the former Northrock 6 Theater at 32nd Street and North Rock Road. They converted the theater into an 80,000-square-foot, Class A office complex where Occidental now has its headquarters.

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Whole Foods Market to open in Wichita at the new Waterfront Plaza

UPDATED — A new phase of the Waterfront development will be the home of Whole Foods Market when it arrives in Wichita next year.

“It’s very big for us,” said Stephen Clark II, who is managing the project, of landing the organic and natural food chain.

“It could be beneficial for the whole market,” Clark said. He said retailers such as Whole Foods Market and the new Cabela’s that entered the market earlier this year attract other big names.

“The more of that you can get, the more interest there is from others.”

Clark’s father, Steve Clark, and fellow Waterfront developer Johnny Stevens are building a new 70,000-square-foot retail center called Waterfront Plaza on the northwest corner of 13th and Webb Road, which Stephen Clark says is part of the larger Waterfront development on the northeast corner.

Whole Foods will anchor the development with a 30,000-square-foot store that Clark said will open in November 2013.

“We just feel that it’s really going to pair well with the community,” said Ben Friedland, executive marketing coordinator of the Rocky Mountain region for Whole Foods Market.

“One of the things that we’re most excited about is we’re a very decentralized organization, which allows us to build stores that are very specific to the communities in which they live,” he said. He said the chain partners with local producers who meet Whole Foods Market standards to sell their items so the store is “going to be endemic to the community, and it’s going to take on its local flair and its local flavor.”

“We’re just really excited about the abundance of local products available.”

Friedland said the Austin-based chain, which has 325 stores in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, has been looking at Wichita for a couple of years.

“It’s another feather in the cap of Wichita for bringing the big names that wouldn’t touch us two to five years ago,” said Don Piros of Landmark Commercial Real Estate. “It’s the domino effect. You bring one or two here, and the rest think, geez, maybe we should be here.”

Piros is handling leasing at the remaining 40,000 square feet at Waterfront Plaza in addition to retail and office leasing within the larger Waterfront area east of Webb Road. That includes a new 4.3 acre area under development north of Chester’s Chophouse & Wine Bar where two new office buildings are slated to be under construction soon.

Piros said he’s close on a few potential Waterfront Plaza tenants. Clark said landing Whole Foods helps.

“People want to be next to Whole Foods, and we expect a lot more activity out there.”

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You don’t say

“The Arkansas River outside doesn’t seem to indicate that.”

Kansas State University history professor James Sherow, speaking at Thursday’s Economic Outlook Conference about whether Wichita Eagle founder Marshall Murdock’s dream to make Wichita an inland port would ever materialize