WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – The whir of motors traveling down Douglas Avenue has grown quieter in recent months as the once-bustling Delano district has suffered the coronavirus pandemic’s weight.
The shopping district and arena neighborhood just west of the Arkansas River was poised to become a central hub for entertainment, lifestyle, and living in 2020. The newly built Riverfront Stadium for minor league baseball team the Wichita Wind Surge was expected to boost revenue to the city when it’s doors were scheduled to open in mid-April for the team’s first home game. But that day never came.
“The stadium should have opened, but it didn’t so we’re not getting that boost in attendance,” says Christopher Parisho, Delano United Treasurer. “A lot of businesses, not just here but in the downtown area have gone to remote working, so there’s less people working to come to have lunch. People just don’t get out for dinner, or get out and socialize as much.”
Hospitality and retail businesses in the area expected to be overwhelmed with travelers and sports fans visiting the arena through the 2020 baseball season. Now, rather than seeing marked influxes of customers in the area, businesses are trying to get by with almost two-thirds less foot traffic coming to the area.
Parisho says though it’s noticeably slower in the area growth hasn’t come to a complete stop, but a slow crawl, as the district and the nation figure out how to move forward again.
Apartments along the Riverfront area have continued construction, though it is uncertain who the new tenants will be. Parisho told KSN many new units were expected to be occupied by those, perhaps, affiliated or with interests in the ballpark.
“The construction projects that were going before pandemic hit have continued,” Parisho said. “Some of them might have slowed down a little bit due to supply needs and worker needs. But those seem to be going pretty good.”
However, just further south of Douglas, there are lots with empty boarded homes purchased by the stadium to accommodate parking. Those houses closest to Maple Street and Sycamore, set to be torn down, have had demolition postponed until the Federal Government signs off an environmental inspection, slowing the gears of development.
Overall, most businesses seem to be doing well enough, given the circumstances, and very few have had to close their doors permanently. Aero Plains Brewery and the short-lived Coney Island closed their doors around the first of the year before the State decreed the pandemic and shutter-in-place orders. Other businesses have closed after choosing not to reopen in Phase 2, citing safety concerns, while others were forced to close due to financial uncertainty.
“We’ve had a few businesses close and decide not to reopen because of the pandemic, but we’ve also had few businesses that plan on opening or expanding,” said Christopher. “So it’s kind of fifty-fifty on that.
It’s still unknown what’s to come for the area, but many remain optimistic. Parisho says the city is considering allowing some business to use sidewalks and parking to expand outdoor dining, a step the Delano United Treasurer says should help businesses struggling to stay afloat. Elements of the Riverfront masterplan construction are still scheduled for 2021 but are pending for the time being.