There's quite a history behind what's now known as Union Station located at 701 E. Douglas in Wichita's historic Old Town. To appreciate the building and the area's recent growth and development, it's important to understand its past.
It All Started with the Chisholm Trail
In the 1830s, a fur trader by the name of Jesse Chisholm began to scout a corridor of land in order to supply trading posts from his home in Oklahoma northward towards Wichita. After the Civil War ended, Chisholm slowly worked to establish this trail into a roadway capable of sustaining multiple trips by wagons to carry his assortment of goods.
The roadway would later become known as the Chisholm Trail and serve as a major thoroughfare used by cattle ranchers in Texas to connect to rail yards in Wichita. Nearly 50 years later, in 1914, Union Station would be built at this important juncture and become a gateway to the East and West for passengers and entrepreneurs alike.
Built For Passengers
The property was originally designed by Kansas City architect Louis S. Curtiss as a passenger terminal. Though the building has undergone several makeovers through the years, it remains a poignant pillar of Douglas Avenue and symbol of Downtown Wichita.
“It has been branded since 1914 and it’s easily recognizable,” says Gary Oborny, Chairman and CEO of Occidental Management, Inc. who owns and manages the property. “It’s an iconic, historical landmark that everyone in Wichita recognizes."
Though passenger service in Wichita ceased in 1979, last month’s case study and cost analysis by Amtrak officials has local leaders striking a hopeful tone on what the service would mean to the continued development of the city’s center.
“I anticipate those studies to be successful,” says Oborny. “It’s an important corridor that would connect Wichita to the rest of the region for many years to come.”
A Stomping Ground for Businesses & Entertainment
With or without passenger service, Union Station has become a catalyst for office and retail development. In addition to the main terminal building, the plaza also houses the historic Rock Island Depot, which accommodates businesses such as The Kitchen, The Mumbai Rail, and Smoothie King and a row of food kiosks to the east, which features Funky Monkeys Shaved Ice, 8 Below Ice Cream, and Noodles to Go. The complex has also become a popular event venue, hosting events such as June's Taco Fest and Bloktober Fest, which attracted more than 4,000 attendees in 2016.
“As identified in ‘Project Downtown: The Master Plan for Wichita’, Union Station is a key connector between INTRUST Bank Arena and the Old Town Entertainment District,” says Jason Gregory, Executive Vice President of Downtown Wichita. “Developing the Union Station site with a mix of uses will enhance a strong pedestrian connection between these two critical anchors in Downtown - catalyzing surrounding properties.”
The Future of Union Station
As Downtown Wichita redevelops along the Douglas Ave corridor, Oborny says he hopes that Union Station will also continue to serve the community in a variety of ways. “From a marketing standpoint, it’s a focal point in the community,” says Oborny. “It’s a mixed-use property and the community’s response to it has been tremendously supportive.”
“Community development is an ongoing team effort, and the community is demanding further development to build a vibrant urban environment,” adds Gregory.
Chisholm may have never envisioned this for his trading post many years ago, but thanks to what he started, the future of Union Station is bright.