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Council selects developer for Eaton

The Wichita Eagle, 1998

By Beccy Tanner

A Minnesota based developer with a record of turning historic properties into usable real estate was given the job Tuesday of funding a way to restore the 111-year-old Eaton Hotel and the block where it sits.

By a 6-0 vote, the City Council gave MetroPlains Development Inc of St. Paul, Minn., permission to develop a plan to renovate the area the city bought in a foreclosure auction last year.

It will be at least two months before details of the plan emerge, including what the cost will be, when it will be done and who will end up owning the property.

But council members are confident in their selection.

"There is absolutely no question this company knows what it is doing," Vice Mayor Joan Cole said. "One of the things that is most appealing about MetroPlains is that it has a reputation of flexibility and openness."

Gary Stenson, MetroPlains president, has proposed converting the upper floors of the Eaton into 90 to 120 apartments— many of them catering to an upscale audience. Portions of the first and second floors would be set aside for professional offices and retail businesses, including a restaurant.

The hotel’s facade would be preserved and a vacant building behind the hotel would be torn down to make room for parking.

MetroPlains Properties Inc. will be the managing general partner in one or more limited partnerships that will be formed to own the development. There probably will be one limited partnership for the residential portion and a separate one for the commercial/retail space.

MetroPlains has completed at least 10 projects of a similar scope and nature in several Midwestern states, including Kansas.

"They were the best developer we ever worked with, said Curtis Freeland, city manager in Arkansas City, where MetroPlains completed renovation of the historic Osage Hotel Into a 38 unit senior apartment complex in 1991.

"They did a very thorough and excellent job on the physical plant … Everything they told us they’d do, they did," Freeland said. "They were a real ethical outfit."

Along with the Osage, MetroPlains has restored the North American Hotel in Ottawa, Sabine Hall in Garden City, Rehwinkel Hall in Winfield and the hotel Stilwell in Pittsburg.

The development company won an award for its work for the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1994

In other projects he’s worked on, Stenson said, a third of the money has typically come from private investors, a third from a mortgage lender and a third from local, state and federal government sources including grants and tax incentives

Cole said she hopes the strong reputation of MetroPlains will make it easier to find private money. The work most likely will be done in phases, she said, with the Eaton Hotel being the first part of the development and other buildings along the block being finished later.

"Interest rates are low and the economy is good" Stenson said. "It is a good time to be doing this. We see the Eaton block providing a transition be between the central business district and Old Town."

The Eaton, at the southwest corner of Douglas and St Francis, was opened in 1887. It earned national headlines when, on Dec. 27, 1900, Carry A. Nation marched into it, intent on destroying the hotel’s bar.

The city bought the hotel and all but one of the other buildings in the south side of the 500 block of East Douglas for $365,000 last year.

The hotel is vacant and on the list of the state’s 10 most endangered buildings

Contributing: Mike Berry and Stan Finger of The Eagle.

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