OK, let’s step back in our You Tube Downtown Tour for second. Yes, it’s nice to be listed as a peer to Kansas City, Denver, Salt Lake City, Indianapolis and Nashville. Yes, the perception of OKC is changing. But that doesn’t excuse us from looking at cities like Wichita either. Wichita, my friends, may very well have a lot to teach us, good and bad, and today we embark on the first of a two-day look at what they’re doing right, and perhaps, what’s going wrong in this often overlooked city.
Since the offerings by You Tube are slim, let’s start with several photos first:
No need for a canal with downtown Wichita
Retail is easy to find – destination retail at that – in Old Town, Wichita’s answer to Bricktown
Wichita’s Old Town even has it’s version of Lower Bricktown
The Old Town Hotel in Wichita, built in an old warehouse. Imagine if someone in Bricktown had the vision to turn the still empty building at Oklahoma Avenue and the canal (used once a year for the haunted warehouse) into a hotel. The late Bricktown visionary Neal Horton had just that plan – but sadly wasn’t able to pull it off.
Downtown Wichita’s convention hotel.
So, before we hear from a resident of downtown Wichita and glance at what I could find on You Tube, let’s hear from Patrick, a veteran OKC online participant.
For the past few months, my wife and I have made several trips to Wichita, Kansas, interviewing for a potential residency position with KU-School of Medicine-Wichita. To be honest, the only reason I applied there was because it was a 2 1/2 hour drive from our family in Oklahoma City. My first visit there in November was quite an eye-opener. I had never been to Wichita before, and wasn’t expecting much. My own preconceived notions told me that it was a small farming community with little to be excited about. What I found surprised me though.
My first stop was downtown Wichita. On the east side of downtown, on the other side of the railroad tracks, is a place called Old Town. Nestled in the city’s heart among the brick-lined streets and historic lampposts are a collection of converted brick warehouses, circa 1870-1930, with native limestone accents and distinctive architectural features. More than 100 restaurants, shops, clubs, theaters, galleries, museums, and businesses have found their niche here. Old Town reminded me a lot of Bricktown, only with unique Wichita shops, restaurants, and night clubs. It doesn’t have a baseball park or a canal running through it, but it the missing element the Bricktown needs: retail. LuCinda’s, a women’s boutique shop was by far my wife’s favorite. We also went to The Frame Guild, Aida’s (a jewelry and accessories store), Andy’s Woods by Design (custom woodworking and home decor), Automobilia (unique gifts inspired by the automobile), Beadazzled (custom jewelry and beads), Cero’s (a Wichita tradition in gourmet chocolates since 1885), First Gear (shoes and running equipment), Mrs. O’learys (Art and stamp supplies), Rock Paper Scissors (stationery), Bondies Old Town Antique Mall, Old Town Cigars, and Nanny’s Niche (jewelry and food items), just to name a few. The area has nearly 30 shops.
A pleasant surprise was that all of the parking was free, in city-owned parking garages. These garages weren’t just concrete garages either. The city designed them meticulously to fit into the overall appearance of the surrounding area. All had brick facades.
Retail shops were intermixed with fine dining establishments like Old Chicago, Torre’s Pizzeria, Uptown Bistro, Whiskey Creek Steak House, Emerson Biggins, EggCetera, Oscar’s Sports Bar, and River City Brewery, to name a few. We ate at Larkspur Restaurant, which was once a building housing a drycleaner. Today, it offers five star dining softly lighted with a touch of light jazz music. Across the street from the Courtyard by Marriott was an old gas station, known as The Ross Pumphouse, which has been in business since 1931. In addition to the gas pumps, the cozy little Conoco station is today known for its home cooked lunches.
We stayed at both the Hotel at Old Town and the Courtyard by Marriott at Old Town, and both were first class hotels, located in turn of the century converted historic warehouse buildings.
Also in Old Town is a state of the art Warren Theatre complex, one of three in the Wichita metro area. Warren Theatres are unique to Wichita, and are a gem in the rough when it comes to theatre experience. Most of their theatres have balconies and full food and bar service complete with wait staff.
Also in Old Town are the Coleman Factory outlet and museum, Great Plains Transportation Museum, Kansas Sports Hall of Fame (had a nice display of memoribilia from Barry Sanders, who grew up in Wichita), and Museum of World Treasures (a huge museum with historical artifacts).
Old Town if filled with art galleries and live theaters, adding to the arts scene in the area. City Arts offers art classes and galleries to view. We took a look through Gallery XII, which has local works from Kansas artists.
Night life is abundant with clubs unique to Wichita, like Liquid, Flashbacks, Club Indigo, and Kelly’s Irish Pub, just to name a few.
The government district in downtown Wichita offers a traditional busines environment, complete with office towers, complemented with fountains, sculptures, and murals. On the south side of the government district is the Century II Convention Center, a state of the art center with a new Hyatt Regency Hotel attached. The Arkansas River runs right by the hotel. Nearby is the WaterWalk area, which is currently being developed as Wichita’s newest entertainment district. The area will consist of restaurants, retail shops, loft apartments, and night life, with the Hyatt Regency being the centerpoint of the district.
Downtown Wichita is eagerly watching the construction of the new 15,000 seat multi-purpose Sedgwick County Arena, which will replace the Kansas Colliseum. The arena will be very similar to the BOK Center being built in downtown Tulsa.
Much of Wichita life revolves around the Arkansas (prounounced “Ar-KANSAS”) River. This reminded me a lot of Tulsa, only with Kansan flair. Each year they have a Riverfest there, complete with floats and carnival attractions. The river is dotted with parks, museums, and other attractions. The city’s museum district surrounds the river, and is made up of attractions like the Wichita Art Museum, the Botanica, Exploration Place (a science museum very much like Science Museum Oklahoma), Mid-American Indian Center, and the Old Cowtown Museum (similar to the National Cowboy Museum). The Keeper of the Plains, a 44 foot sculpture, located at the juncture of the Little and Big Arkansas Rivers, is the focal point of the area. The Lawrence-Dumont Stadium and Wichita Ice Center represent the sports attractions in the area. Most of the performing arts in Wichita take place in the River District.
My wife and I spent a few relaxing moments at the Central Riverside Park, one of the larger parks in the area. We also worked off our lunch walking along one of the many trails along the river.
This past summer Wichita experienced the opening of Wild West World, a new amusement park, very similar to Frontier City, only with better rides and attractions.
Since my wife accompanied me on many of my trips to Wichita, we experienced the Wichita shopping scene first hand. We started at Bradley Fair, a new upscale open air center on the northeast side of town. It’s like a modern Utica Square, complete with upscale shops like Jos A Bank, Harolds, Talbots, Williams Sonoma, and J. Jill, Ann Taylor, and Banana Republic, to name a few. The surrounding area has other upscale strip centers like The Shops at Tallgrass and Tallgrass Centre. The Waterfront is a newly developed retail and restaurant district on the far east side of town. The area surrounds a lake complete with fountains and walking trails. The district has restaurants you’d find on Memorial Rd. in Oklahoma City, i.e., Red Robin, PF Chang’s, Fox and Hound, and Abuelos. It also has shops like Brooks Brothers and Kate Lane. The area also has a luxury hotel. Clifton Square Shopping Village, located centrally, has a unique collection of shops in a 19th century village. It reminded me a lot of Mayfair Village.
Our shopping trip also took us to the area’s local malls. Wichita has two major traditional malls, Towne East Square and Towne West Square. Towne East Square is the larger of the two, and is located in the east side of the city. It’s very similar to Quail Springs Mall, and has traditional mall retail shops. It’s a two level mall and has 4 anchor stores. Towne West Square is on the west side of town, and is a smaller one level mall, with traditional mall retailers.
We took a trip to the west side of town, which is a growing area with younger families. A new retail development called NewMarket Square was developed in recent years. It has traditional big box stores, and is very similar to Quail Springs Marketplace or Bell Isle Station.
Essentially, Wichita is growing towards the east and west. The newer parts of town and new housing developments are far east and far west. Each area is anchored by a multiscreen upscale Warren Theatres complex.
Wichita is known for its aviation industry, which employs many in the area. Cessna, Boeing, Aerospace, Beech Aircraft, Learjet, Bombardier, Raytheon, and Spirit Serosystems all have a huge presence there. McConnell Air force Base is on the city’s southeast side. Koch Industries is probably one of the area’s largest employers. The Coleman Company and Pizza Hut are Wichita originals.
Overall, I was very impressed with Wichita. My trips there completely changed my impression of the city. It’s like a big city, with that small city charm.
And now, for You Tube:
(NOTE: If you can find better You Tube videos showing downtown Wichita, please let me know!)