tradition of young partiers hopping from club to club on weekend nights
If you were making one of those gag birthday cards for Old Town, it might read something like this:
“Happy 20th birthday, Old Town!” (turn inside). “You don’t look a day over 100.”
It wouldn’t really be an insult, of course. Old Town was built on the bones of an old warehouse district, renovated brick buildings giving the area its distinctive architectural style.
Today, the business and residential space inside those buildings is full. But Old Town wasn’t an overnight success.
“I thought it would probably develop a little bit faster,” admits Dave Burk, the developer who’s responsible more than anyone else for Old Town’s emergence. “But we’ve expanded it now to Old Town Square (north of 2nd Street), and I think you’re going to see more expansion toward the (Intrust Bank) arena.”
According to Burk, urban redevelopment presents a host of challenges. “You have older infrastructure,” he said. “You’ve got parking issues. You’ve got acquisition issues. Every 25 or 50 feet you’ve got a different property owner.”
“To do any type of larger project downtown, you need a public-private partnership.”
The last comment is Burk’s answer to critics who say the city has devoted too many resources to Old Town compared to other parts of Wichita.
Former warehouse district is now a mixed-use neighborhood bustling with nightlife, dining, residences and more. Downtown boosters hope its success can be repeated.
Despite that criticism, it’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t think Old Town is one of the city’s chief attractions.
It started out mostly as an entertainment zone, with restaurants and bars like Larkspur, River City Brewery and Heroes leading the way. They’ve been joined by a couple dozen more nightspots and eateries, and the tradition of young partiers hopping from club to club on weekend nights remains strong.
But if Old Town held nothing but entertainment venues, Burk doesn’t think it would have succeeded as it has.
“You really need the mixed use—the people living down here, the people working down here,” he said. “Then you have activity at all times.”
There are waiting lists for apartments and condos in the area.
That started happening when businesses like the Sullivan Higdon Sink advertising agency and First Gear running goods moved in. Other milestones came in 1996, when the first apartment units went in, and then in 1999, when the Hotel at Old Town opened in the old Keen Cutter building.
“Because of its size and proximity and appearance, I think that is a real highlight,” Burk said of the hotel.
The area seems to exert a pull on creative types, from architects and artists to actors and stylists.
“Overall we just love it,” said Stan Shelden, whose seven-person architecture firm is located there. “You can take a customer to grab a bite to eat. It’s very walkable. A lot of times there’s fun stuff going like Final Friday (an art crawl). It’s just an atmosphere that we feel is fun for our employees.”
Valerie Reimers opened Lucinda’s gift shop in Old Town 10 years ago. “I just always loved Old Town,” Reimers said. “As I teenager I would find a way to come down here, wander around the shops, go to the Old Mill Tasty Shop. I was just always enchanted by the old buildings.”
There are waiting lists for apartments and condos in the area. Charlie Claycomb, president of the Old Town Association and a resident for seven years, said this in an email: “We just really like being able to walk to eat, walk to have a drink and listen to live music, walk to church, walk to the movies, walk to Riverfest, etc. The river paths are close for cycling, running and walking. We can sit out on our decks and listen to music from Mort’s or the Brickyard in the evenings. There is just so much going on here all the time.”
In other words, Burk’s vision of Old Town seems to have been realized. As for the future, he said the biggest need for Old Town—and downtown in general—is for a supermarket. Because of what’s already in place, any significant development will have to take place on the margins of Old Town.
In fact, that’s exactly what the people pushing downtown Wichita’s redevelopment hope will happen.
OLD TOWN BLUES
Joe Stumpe, author of the accompanying article on Old Town, is also a musician who penned this song about the area:
Friday night in Old Town
The bars are filling up
Ready for another go-round
Sit down raise your cup
To them Old Town blues, them Old Town blues
Ain’t nothing to lose ‘cept them Old Town blues
Well they come from Derby and Mulvane
They come from Goddard and Hutch
‘Cause the girls are all prettier in Old Town
And the beer costs twice as much
Get them Old Town blues…
Now there’s lots of talk in Old Town
And a little bit of lying
If you can’t get lucky in Old Town
Brother you must not be trying
Get them Old Town blues…
“It’s really the basis of what the rest of the downtown development (plan) is based on,” said Jeff Fluhr, president of the Wichita Downtown Development Corp.
“Old Town is a great example—actually a national example—of a successful mixed-use development, where you have residential, retail, the restaurants, office space. It is a tremendous example of how walkability can be achieved. Our goal is to take the success we’ve seen in Old Town to other parts of downtown.”
But Burk said one aspect of Old Town will remain unique.
“Old Town has a character you don’t have anywhere else,” he said. “If you like historic buildings and brick streets, Old Town is really the only place in Wichita where you can get that.”
OLD TOWN BY THE NUMBERS
Here’s a look at the make-up of Old Town, along with the number of years some businesses have called the area home.
• Restaurants: 13
• Bars/Clubs: 16
• Shops/Galleries/Studios: 34
• Apt/Residential Buildings: 11
• Hotels: 2
• Museums: 3
• Live Theater and Cinema: 3
• Professional Businesses & Services: 50
5 YEARS OR LESS
Landmark Commercial Real
5 TO 10 YEARS
Spangenberg Phillips Tice
Prairie Vistas Gallery
Wichita Business Journal
Museum of World Treasures
10 TO 15 YEARS
Old Town Chiropractic
Above & Beyond Corporate Gifts
Elements Hair and Body Shop
Great Plains Transportation Museum Sullivan Higdon Sink
River City Brewery
The Aquarium in Old Town
Rock Island Studios
Karen Bullard (psychologist)