Wichita design group works to revitalize Douglas Avenue underpass

By: Jason Tarr Email
By: Jason Tarr Email

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WICHITA, Kan. -- On his lunch breaks, Chad Glenn often takes the path under the Douglas Avenue rail bridge.

But, he would really rather not.

"It's just not attractive," Glenn said. "There is no desire for me to walk underneath it."

It's especially unpleasant, he says, given the pests he finds along his walk.

"The pigeons for sure are always an issue," Glenn said. "You're always kind of ducking and dodging."

Glenn, like many others in Wichita, see the underpass as an eyesore and as a barrier.

Downtown leaders want to change that.

They'd like to see the underpass transformed into a distinctive gateway that better connects downtown and Old Town. Their hope is that the gateway would encourage people to not only drive, but also to walk, that route.

"It's a rail bridge but we have the opportunity to be really creative with that," said Jeff Fluhr, President of the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation (WDDC). "Let's start with that and figure out how we get something built."

They'll have that opportunity to be creative thanks to a $75,000 grant from the Knight Foundation. That money will be used to come up with a new design.

"(The Knight Foundation) is really about how you create a destination," Fluhr said.

Thursday night, Fluhr and the design group hosted their first of many meetings to come with the public. They're asking people to give them ideas to help get them started.

At the meeting, they shared pictures of distinctive gateways from across the country, including the archway in St. Louis, to help generate some ideas.

As the discussion took off between designers and the public, suggestions included creating a "green space" on top of the bridge, using motion-activated lighting in the underpass, and removing lanes to create a solid median.

Local historians say the rail bridge is an important part of the city that was built more than 100 years ago.

"It was the first time they were trying to separate all of the trains going through with the pedestrians, at that time horse traffic, and then car traffic," said Sharon Fearey, who served on the historic preservation board and the Wichita City Council. "There's a lot of significance in that that bridge was the first blush of connecting east and west Wichita."

Fearey and others who were at the meeting say while the bridge is part of Wichita's history, they'd like to see the redesign focus more on the future than the past.

The design group acknowledged there will be some challenges in redesigning the structure. For example, they'll have to work with the railroad which is largely in charge of the structure.

But Fluhr says at this stage he wants the design group to consider all ideas and not focus on possible road blocks.

"The design group will begin to take what they heard tonight and begin to translate those into a schematic design, what are the possibilities," Fluhr said.

Their hope is to have a design completed by August, Fluhr said.

That's exciting to Glenn and others, who say a facelift for the Douglas underpass could be a big boost for Wichita.

"We have the opportunity to make somebody go, 'Wow, this is awesome!' Let's do that!" Glenn said. "This may seem like a small project that doesn't seem like a whole lot, but it is. I think it's a wonderful opportunity for the community to get involved to express their opinions and to do something."

To submit ideas for the Douglas Avenue underpass redesign, please visit activate-Wichita.com. You may also call the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation at (316) 264-6005.

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