By MeLinda Schnyder
Many apartments in downtown Wichita come with original art included: brick walls, exposed ductwork, tall windows framing urban views and remnants of historic tenants.
“You don’t find character like this in the suburbs,” said Shawn Bartel-Morrow, who lives in the Commerce Street Lofts with his husband Michael Morrow.
Shannon Boone, who lives at The Lux with her 12-year-old daughter, agreed. “I love things that have a story and a history,” she said. “Not only does The Lux have that, but the owners did a phenomenal job staying true to the building’s history when they turned it into living space.”
According to the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation, about 2,100 people live downtown and the area is on pace to double its resident population over the next five to seven years. Residential occupancy rates are 95 to 100 percent and a diverse inventory of units is scheduled to open during the next year.
“Downtown’s residential market is just hopping right now,” said Chris Stong, owner of Commerce Street Lofts. “There are a lot of really great things happening downtown, literally all over the place. You’ve got a mid-century modern building, my place that’s 100 years old, new construction. The choices are fantastic and they are varied.”
Here’s a look at some unique residences you might be surprised to find in downtown Wichita.
A converted warehouse
Stong saw potential in the 1922 broom corn warehouse he bought and loved the matching unique vibe of its Commerce Street neighborhood, just a block south of Intrust Bank Arena. He converted the warehouse into a mix of commercial and residential, including two one-bedroom, two-bath units that are about 1,600 square feet each and four two-bedroom, two-bath units at about 1,400 square feet. The units have high ceilings and a mix of original and modern materials: brick, wooden beams and posts, hardwood floors and bathroom suites with subway tiled walls and hex tiled floors.
The Morrows were looking to relocate from El Dorado to downtown Wichita three years ago and wanted two bedrooms. “But we fell in love with this place as soon as we walked in,” Bartel-Morrow said. “This was so big and so unique, we knew we could make it work.”
The Morrow’s top-floor apartment has skylights, warehouse sliding doors, stainless steel appliances and high-end fixtures.
“We liked the character and openness,” Bartel-Morrow said. “It has nice finishes to it and there’s a big kitchen you can entertain in. My husband and I both travel a lot so we wanted something that was easy to maintain when we’re not home.”
The old high school
The Flats 324 opened in 2010 after co-developers Dave Burk and Jason Van Sickle transformed the former Wichita High School at 324 N. Emporia into 68 apartments. This summer they opened a 72-unit new construction expansion next door.
The three-story buildings and parking lots are gated and share amenities like a community garden, pet park, pool and café. The historic building appeals to tenants looking for character, the expansion attracts price-conscious renters or those who prefer new construction.
Square footage in the high school building units ranges from 700 to 2,000 and rent runs from $850 to $2,200 per month. The building still has its wide hallways and familiar big wall clocks, and every unit is unique. Some apartments have gymnasium flooring with basketball court striping, auditorium staging or original stained concrete flooring. Many have remnants from their former roles as boiler rooms or science and art classrooms.
“This isn’t the most efficient use of space from a developer standpoint, but we think it’s pretty cool that this was a historic preservation project,” Van Sickle said.
A mid-century modern building
The Lux, an eight-story building that is the former Kansas Gas and Electric headquarters at First and Market, is the only mid-century modern architectural building that has been converted into apartments in downtown Wichita. Michael Ramsey, a partner in Bokeh Development, which developed The Lux’s 86 residential units and two floors of commercial space, said the property often has a waiting list for units ranging from a 400-square-foot micro-unit to a three-bedroom, 1,800-square-foot unit.
In addition to preserving the exterior architecture, the lobbies are the same as they were in 1954 and the hallways on the residential floors are painted using a mid-century color palette. The units have high ceilings, continuous windows, hardwood floors in the main living spaces, open floor plans and modern finishes.
“Everything has been custom designed, nothing was just off the shelf,” said Jennifer Rygg, 41, who moved to The Lux two years ago.
As a graduate architect, Rygg said she chose The Lux mainly because of its focus on energy and environmental design.
The Lux is on schedule to become the first in Wichita to achieve LEED Gold Certification, Ramsey said. In addition to energy efficient designs and materials, the building has a green patio on the third floor and a green rooftop on the eighth floor with seating, firepits, grills and city views.
“The amenities The Lux provides are really nice, from the rooftop spaces to the washer and dryer in every apartment to the workout room,” Rygg said. “I’ve always wanted to live in a larger city and living downtown at The Lux gives me the larger city feeling without the millions of people.”