BY MELINDA SCHNYDER
The pet park is the new swimming pool when it comes to must-have apartment amenities in Wichita. Apartment dwellers need a convenient place to take their dogs, and bonding over pets is a more comfortable way to meet your neighor than putting on a bathing suit and jumping in the water together.
The most frequent search filter on Apartments.com used by housing hunters in Wichita is “dog friendly,” said Todd Galvin, the Wichita market analyst for CoStar Group, a commercial real estate information company that runs a network of home rental websites.
Apartment developer Jason Van Sickle sees eight of every 10 renters with a pet. He said the Chisholm Lake Apartments complex he opened in 2013 (and has since sold) near K-96 and Oliver introduced the self-service pet-washing station concept to the Wichita market. Now many developments across the city have dedicated common space to wash pets, and new properties are continuing to unleash new pet-friendly amenities.
“We have a pet wash, a pet care center that has everything you need for grooming, we have an outdoor pet park and we have grilling area that allows tenants to hang out, grill, and have dinner while their dog runs around,” Van Sickle said of The Flats 324 in downtown Wichita. He and Dave Burk transformed the former Wichtia High School at 324 N. Emporia into 68 apartments in 2010, then in 2016 they build a 72-unit new construction expansion next door and added features to the gated complex including a swimming pool, clubhouse and pet-friendly amenities.
The Douglas, 240 luxury apartments that opened in 2017 on the downtown block of Douglas Avenue where Fourth National Bank once stood, has a dog spa and an open-air bark park on its fourth floor, where pets can go off leash and play on an agility course.
Broadway Autopark, which converted a downtown parking garage into 44 apartments with front door parking and balconies, opened in 2017 with a dog-washing station. Property manager Tamera Worman said there are plans to develop a dog park next to the property that would be easily accessible to tenants.
River Vista, the 202-unit complex opening this year on the west bank of the Arkansas River just north of Douglas Avenue, will have a dog-wash area and an outdoor fencing area with artificial turf and a river view.
Apartment developers are competing for tenants by offering more than just a roof over their heads. “Property management is a service industry now,” Van Sickle said. “It's about what the tenant needs and what kind of service can be provided to make their lives better and easier. It's been a real shift over the last 10 years.”
A 2017 Pew Research Center analysis of Census Bureau housing data reported that more U.S. households are renting than at any point in the past 50 years. The data shows movement toward renting spans age, races and income levels.
Jason Gregory, executive director for Wichita Downtown Development Corporation, attributes some of the increased renting in Wichita to people wanting mobility, including young adults with fluid careers and empty nesters who plan to travel frequently. Renting apartments has become a lifestyle choice, rather than a choice people have to make if they can't afford to buy a home.
As more inventory has opened in the downtown core (879 residential units since 2010 with another 725 currently in construction or planning phase), occupancy has slipped from 95 to 100 percent rates reported in 2016.
“I've talked to our property managers early this year and they are expecting leasing numbers to come back into the upper 80s and lower 90s for the year,” Gregory said of downtown apartments. “The ones with the most compelling amenities packages are the ones leasing up.”
REINVENTED COMMON SPACES
Gregory said WDDC research shows that typical downtown apartment dwellers consider the entire city core as their living room, so they are OK with smaller units. To compensate for the lack of entertaining space, developers have put an emphasis on designing common spaces where residents can mingle or entertain friends and family.
The Lux, an 86-unit property in a mid-century modern building downtown, introduced the rooftop terrace to downtown Wichita with a green patio on its third floor and a green rooftop on its eighth floor with seating, fire pits, grills and city views.
One of the more grandiose versions is The Douglas' sky deck, an outdoor area with a saltwater wading pool, cabanas, fire pits and grills, and the sky lounge, an indoor community room with seating nooks, televisions, shuffleboard and a pool table.
Everything at River Vista is designed to take advantage of the property's unique riverbank address, and that includes a clubhouse with a view. When it opens this spring or summer, the property will feature a large indoor clubhouse with a bar, shuffleboard, and lounge areas that lead out to a resort-style pool with more seating.
The Flats 324 incorporated a full kitchen in its clubhouse so tenants can use it to host dinner parties.
High-end services are another trend showing up in the Wichita apartment market. The Flats 324 offers front-door trash pickup. The Douglas offers covered valet parking for residents and has dry cleaning lockers and parcel lockers. River Vista also will have parcel lockers, which will allow deliver companies to leave packages in secure storage lockers and send a code to retrieve them.
Adding convenience is another factor driving amenities. The clubhouse at Flats 324 includes a cafe and mini-mart so you can grab a bagel and coffee before heading out to work. The Lux has two floors of commercial space, including Espresso To Go Go and Little Lion Ice Cream Shops. The ground level of The Douglas houses Sente, a coffee shop with more than 200 board games to borrow. River Vista will have Boats and Bikes, where tenants can store their own equipment or rent non-motorized watercraft to take out on the water as well as wheeled equipment for land exploration.
“The focus right now is what can we do to continue to make our amenities more convenient, more original, and unique, because there are plenty of places to rent, so you really have to compete with meaningful amenities that make people's lives better and easier,” Van Sickle said.