4B approves $800k for Petroleum Building renovation

A nearly $1 million expenditure could help turn a downtown eyesore into dormitory-style housing for Midwestern State University students.

Property developer Will Kelty was approved Dec. 7, by the Wichita Falls 4B Sales Tax Corporation Board of Directors for a forgivable loan of up to $800,000 toward a fire suppression/alarm system for the Petroleum Building, 726 Scott Ave.

Kelty purchased the former hotel/office building in 2016, with an aim to turn it into much-needed housing for the downtown area. His first project at this site was turning a portion of the first floor into the popular restaurant and bar, the Highlander Public House, which opened in March.

The building rests on the site of an oil-boom era hotel, the Kemp Hotel, which boasted famous guests including presidents and movie stars. The Kemp was demolished in the 1960s, and the Downtowner was built. It later became a Holiday Inn, went through several owners and finally became The Crescent Plaza – a pay-by-the-week residential hotel. The spot became a hotbed of crime, with police responding to more than 250 calls about the site in a year. The Crescent closed suddenly in 2011, and all residents were evicted. It sat vacant until purchased by Kelty five years later.

In a presentation to the Wichita Falls 4B Sales Tax Corporation Board of Directors, Kelty said he would like to use the upper floors (two through nine) of this building for student and apartment-style housing for Midwestern State University students and other residents. The second through fifth floors could hold 110 housing units. The rooms would lease for $500-$600 a month with all bills paid. MSU representatives toured the facility earlier in the year and found the idea to be a viable project. If approved, the housing could be available as soon as the summer of 2018.

Kelty said downtown student housing is an option used in many cities with a college or university. The housing encourages integration of college students into the downtown area and could aid in their decision to stay in Wichita Falls after college. The arrangement could further Wichita Falls’ goal to make the city a “college town” and benefits MSU by providing housing space not possible on the land-locked campus.

With a total estimated price tag of $8.8 million for renovation, the developer said making the location livable will be twice the cost of what makes sense, financially.

Kelty said he is willing spend more than $4 million toward the project and is seeking help of 4B, the city and county for the remaining $4 million.

The portion of funds approved by 4B at their meeting Dec. 7, is up to $800,000 toward a fire-suppression system for the former hotel.

Many building in downtown were constructed before fire-suppression equipment was required. An ongoing effort by 4B has helped new businesses thrive in the area by partially or completely funding these systems in their renovated downtown properties.

As a hotel (deemed transient, not permanent housing), the building was not originally required to have sprinklers. Changing to student housing, Kelty said the building must be fitted with sprinklers and a fire-alarm system. Paying out-of-pocket for these changes, he said, would make the project “unfeasible.”

Along with 4B help, Kelty said other assistance from entities could take the form of: transportation to and from campus (through the city bus system), property tax-rate lock for up to 10 years (county assistance), or a sales-tax abatement. Kelty approached the Wichita County Commissioners Court in May about possible purchase of the Lindemann building to use the garage for resident parking, but no decision was made.

Kelty said he expects the project to be completed in two phases. The first phase would be installation of the fire-suppression system, renovation of floors two through five and upgrade of the outdoor swimming pool. The second phase will be renovation of 60 units on floors six through 10, which will be larger, multi-room apartments.

If approved by city council Tuesday, the 4B funds will be awarded in a five-year forgivable loan, with conditions.

The funds will be dispersed after documentation of  costs and a certificate of occupancy for the first 110 units is provided to the city by July 2018. The project must also secure approval for a dedicated bus route from the building to MSU. There may be some further requirements which are still under review by the city attorney.

Total project funds will be released after Kelty operates the building, as stated, for at least five years. During the period, 20 percent of the loan will be forgiven for each year of successful operation.

Kelty has been a major investor in the revitalization of downtown Wichita Falls. Based in California, the investor began interest in the area when he purchased the “Big Blue” building and has gone on to revamp many nearby properties. Kelty said he fell in love with Big Blue and all of downtown Wichita Falls and is invested, financially and personally, into making the area thrive again. Many of his projects, he said, really don’t make financial sense, but he said investing in downtown is more important to him than a purely monetary decision.

CVB shows off renovation, original mural

Mayor Stephen Santellana spoke briefly at the ribbon cutting saying the CVB is “ground zero” for many things that happen for the city.

“There only so much a city can do,” he said. “The CVB finds leads and conventions. … There’s a lot of great stuff happening and now there is a great facility to go along with it.”

When the full-service hotel to be built in the MPEC parking lot is complete, this office, Santellana will be within walking distance for hundreds of visitors to discover what is happening in the city.

The main lobby area is designed in black, white and grey with a few pops of color, such as a bicycle hanging from the ceiling donated by Chip Filer, executive director of the Hotter’H Hell Hundred Committee, and a cow-skin run on the floor.

Retail items created by local merchants are available in the lobby, including T-shirts and hand-painted postcards.

On the back wall, visitors can browse a timeline of the city from the founding fathers to present time.

The interior offices flow with a common decorating theme and a personal touch from accents that the staff brought from home.

A subtle yet striking feature of the lobby is a floor-to-ceiling mural on the back wall featuring the Littlest Skyscraper on the left and the Wichita Falls waterfall on the right with cyclists riding over its bridge.

Barker said mural artist Audra Lambert was recommended to her for the job.

Lambert said she has been painting murals since 2013. She has completed several murals on commission for organizations, doctor’s offices and museums, including one she co-painted with another artist at the Museum of Art at Midwestern State University.

The artist and Barker discussed the color scheme and design, then Lambert went to work in September. She said the process took three weeks to finish.

Lambert said the Littlest Skyscraper is a gem of downtown with a quirky history unique to the city.

The waterfall, she said, had to be included, with it being such an iconic image.

And, cycling is an important part of Wichita Falls, with both the world-famous HHH race and MSU’s award-winning cycling team.

Claire Kowalick, Times Record News
Published 3:56 p.m. CT Dec. 13, 2017

TRN Article

P&Z approves food truck court at King’s Grocery

Parikh told the commission there are about 400 customers per day at the grocery store. He said the store does not provide prepared, ready-to-eat food. Many of his customers, he said, do not drive and have few options for hot, quick meals. This food court will fulfill that need for this part of town.

P&Z member Matt Prouty said the food court idea was well received by the commission. He said the planned area could hold up to 12 food trucks, but there will probably not be that many parked there on a regular basis.

For bigger food truck events, outside vendors could come in with a temporary permit.

Prouty said the owner’s plan to start small, see if the food court is a match for the neighborhood and, hopefully, grow from there.

Claire Kowalick, Times Record News
Published 2:43 p.m. CT Dec. 17, 2017

TRN Article

WPT Corp. Honored With Safety Award

The worker’s comp commissioner of Texas honored WPT Power Corporation, and its employees with the Lone Star Safety Award Wednesday. The award recognizes them for creating a safe work space and maintaining low rates of on-the-job injuries and illnesses.

By Angie Lankford, Producer

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