Stores will not have to move with Topeka's innovation campus buildout downtown — and new retailers may be added

India Yarborough
Topeka Capital-Journal
Retail space from 631-635 S. Kansas Ave. will remain, as stakeholders look to stand up downtown Topeka's ASTRA Innovation Center.

The standing up of Topeka's soon-to-be-realized innovation campus isn't expected to displace small businesses in the downtown block where it will be located.

Still, one business in that block is moving elsewhere, and developers of the campus may eventually look to bring in new retailers on the first floors of 631 through 635 S. Kansas to supplement innovation-campus activity.

According to Stan Wendzel, CEO of BioRealty, the national real-estate development firm tasked with making the campus a reality, the project's design revolves around retaining retail spaces on the ground floor.

"Economically, it's not as viable as some of the other uses you would do on a project, but we think it's just the appropriate mix of uses for that project," Wendzel said. "We think it'll help acclimate that corner.

"With Evergy Plaza across the street and some of the other things going on in the building, we have high hopes for what we might be able to do with the retail there."

Reliant Apparel moving, Absolute Design by Brenda staying put

It was announced earlier this month that Topeka's innovation campus — dubbed the ASTRA Innovation Center — would be stood up in the building formerly home to Wolfe's Camera Shop. The innovation center, though, will span more than one structure, encompassing 635, 633 and 627 S. Kansas.

Reliant Apparel, which has been situated in that strip of storefronts since 2014, recently announced it is in the process of moving out of its current location, at 631 S. Kansas. But Clinton Appelhanz, co-owner of the business, said the move wasn't solely because of the innovation campus coming in.

More:Former home of Wolfe's Camera to become site of Topeka's multimillion-dollar downtown innovation campus

When they heard their building might be sold, Appelhanz said, he and the business' co-owner began discussing whether to keep Reliant Apparel in the 600 block of S. Kansas or move elsewhere.

Luckily, he said, they had a contact at Townsite Tower, which sits about a block north and is being remodeled.

Downtown Topeka's forthcoming innovation campus is expected to occupy the upper floors of 631-635 S. Kansas. Design plans include maintaining retail on the ground floor.

Such renovations were attractive to Reliant Apparel, he added, and it felt like the right move.

"(The new owner has) turned the place around," he said. "It looks great in there. They're actively working on stuff. There are people in there now. There's an energy. It's almost like a small-business community they're building with all the stuff they're doing."

Reliant Apparel is in the process of moving to Townsite and should be fully relocated within the next two to three months. The custom-apparel shop will have a retail storefront on Townsite's first floor, with the business' production facility located in the basement.

"Our setup, in essence, is kind of the same," Appelhanz said.

More:Local businessman plans to renovate Townsite Plaza, Topeka Tower

Though the new retail space will be smaller than its current one — "Retail is not really a big part of our business, so it's not an issue," Appelhanz said — Reliant's new production facility is expected to be bigger than it was previously, giving the business room to grow.

"We do have a new piece of equipment coming in," he said. "We plan on expanding our operational capacity as we get our feet underneath us."

A shopper purchases goods at Absolute Design by Brenda last year during the winter holiday season. According to its owner, the store will stay put.

As for Absolute Design by Brenda — the other small business located within the stretch of buildings that will soon house ASTRA Innovation Center — store owner Brenda Price said she isn't going anywhere.

"I received an email a few weeks ago that it was their intention for Absolute Design to be here during the renovation, so I could still be open for business," Price said, adding she is thrilled to remain at 629 S. Kansas, where she has been for the past 12 years.

BioRealty looks to attract retail tenants, may bring in cafe

Though Reliant is moving, Appelhanz said he doesn't think negatively of the innovation campus buildout. Rather, he views it as another piece in the effort to improve the downtown Topeka experience.

"It should be an awesome thing to add to downtown," Appelhanz said. "That and the emergence of the new Townsite should really lift downtown, along with Evergy Plaza. It seems like people will have more incentive to come downtown and do things than they have in the past."

According to Wendzel, BioRealty may look to attract additional retail tenants as construction of the innovation campus unfolds over what he estimates may be about 18 months.

"We don't want to get too far ahead of ourselves ... but our hope on the Wolfe's space," Wendzel said, "is we really would like to activate that corner, frankly, with some sort of deli, coffee shop or restaurant potentially."

The retail space of the former Wolfe's Camera Shop may be converted to house another business.

He indicated BioRealty has a couple leads when it comes to eateries that may end up there.

"But we're still a long way out from delivering the space," he added. "In fact, we don't even know the exact timing yet until a couple of dominoes fall."

Regardless, Wendzel said, BioRealty aims to be a good property owner and will continue working with the city of Topeka and other stakeholders to make the multimillion-dollar innovation campus a reality.

"We want to try to be good stewards and good landlords in that market and bring a nice project to that market," he said. "We want the project to not only go well, but we want people to be treated well and feel like it's been a good addition to downtown."