Townsite owner has invested close to $10M so far. Here's where renovations stand at the downtown Topeka site.

India Yarborough
Topeka Capital-Journal

People visiting and driving through downtown Topeka are taking notice of a multimillion renovation project playing out in the 500 block of S. Kansas Ave.

What was once a looming, tan structure with little curb appeal is being transformed into a state-of-the-art office building. The exterior now features a fresh, $500,000 coat of black paint — and investment in interior renovations far exceed updates made to the outside.

"I think by the end of the year, including the initial purchase price, we'll (have invested) over $10 million," said Ken Schmanke, president and CEO of K1 Realty, who bought the Townsite properties last year for a little more than $1.5 million, according to Shawnee County property records.

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Ken Schmanke, president and CEO of K1 Reality, looks out over downtown from the redesigned top floor of Townsite.

At the time, Schmanke told The Topeka Capital-Journal he planned to tackle Townsite renovations "one bite at a time," gradually checking items off a lengthy to-do list.

"It seems like we're adding more to our list faster than we can take them off," Schmanke said Wednesday. "There are just so many things to do and a lot of opportunities for improvement."

The property Schmanke owns includes Townsite Tower, which faces Kansas Avenue and was previously known as Topeka Tower; Townsite Plaza, which is adjacent to the tower and faces S.E. 6th Avenue; and Townsite Commons, which is the name for the common areas connecting the two buildings.

"We refer to the whole thing now as 'Townsite,'" Schmanke said.

Event spaces complete; other renovations underway

Townsite Avenue Ballroom offers more than 18,000-square-feet of event space and can accommodate more than 800 people.

Schmanke and his team at K1 Realty have made significant improvements thus far to all three portions of the property.

Behind the scenes, he said, they have spent more than a million dollars on HVAC improvements, invested in elevator upgrades and updated alarm systems.

Within Townsite Tower, they have remodeled an 18,000-square-foot ballroom on the building's first floor, as well as an 11,600-square-foot event venue on the 16th floor. Both spaces are already hosting events, including wedding receptions and community meetings, as renovations elsewhere move forward.

Upgraded amenities include the on-site Townsite Cafe, various meeting nooks and a number of office spaces that are home to new tenants.

Since Schmanke and his K1 team began renovations last year, he said, they have attracted about eight new tenants, adding to the more than 30 that were already on site.

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The 16th floor of Townsite Tower, where Top of the Tower once was, offers grand views of downtown Topeka for those renting out the space.

The three Townsite Plaza buildings are now 87% occupied, while Townsite Tower is 67% occupied, Schmanke said.

"So we have room," he added. "Mostly, it's on the upper floors."

Recent additions include Reliant Apparel, a co-working space, a wealth management firm and others. As the properties continue to attract tenants, Schmanke expects Townsite to become a strong business community in its own right.

"I think one of the things that we recognize," Schmanke said, "is it has become even more important to have an office space that has the right vibe, because these employers are competing for talent. There are some spaces in this building that haven't been touched for years, and they feel like your grandfather's office space."

Though one might not know it by walking through the first floor of the tower, plaza and commons, several upper-level floors still feature materials and furnishings reminiscent of the building's beginning almost 50 years ago.

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Artwork hangs on the walls in Townsite Commons Wednesday morning. This section of the building connects Townsite Tower to 6th Street and into Townsite Plaza.

K1 Realty is turning that around by instilling "clean, modern, minimalistic, fresh" designs, Schmanke said.

That extends to a suite on the second floor that he and his wife are transforming into a five-bedroom, four-bathroom, 5,000-square-foot apartment they'll eventually move into.

"We're trying to emphasize quality," Schmanke said. "'Less is more' is one of the things I like to say."

Additional projects on the horizon

Customers enjoy breakfast at the Townsite Café at Townsite Commons on Wednesday morning.

At the beginning of the year, Schmanke stood up K1 Hospitality — a sister company to K1 Realty — and that new business runs Townsite Cafe, as well as an on-site catering business.

"I really like the way our cafe turned out," Schmanke said. "I like the way both of the venue spaces have worked out. The common areas and the tenant improvements that we've done so far have been great. We're trying to do everything at a high level. It's frustrating that it can't all happen quickly. ... I counted not too long ago, and we had 25 different projects in the works."

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Though he can't decide which part of the Townsite improvements he is most proud of, Schmanke said the exterior paint job continues to get recognition from community members.

"I think we've gotten a bigger impact from painting the building than even I anticipated," he said. "It just really changes the feel of the building."

When it comes to Townsite's outdoor spaces, a vast courtyard area between the tower and the plaza features a whimsical paint design, mirroring a series of canvases in the tower lobby that Schmanke painted himself.

Townsite Tower reflects light in the evening hours Monday. Managed by K1 Reality, the building and accompanying plaza and parking garage are situated near the corner of S.E. 6th and Kansas avenues.

"I would say before there were prison yards that looked better (than the courtyard)," Schmanke said. "It was just not a place you wanted to be. We're trying to make this feel more like a place you'd want to spend some time."

There are still some courtyard landscaping projects on the horizon that should make the space even more attractive, Schmanke said, and he intends to stand up "hardscaping" that will serve as somewhat of a barrier around the courtyard, allowing them to close off the area for events.

He may also erect a rooftop patio above the Townsite Avenue Ballroom, and he envisions the patio being accessible from the third floor, as that part of the building juts out from the 16-story tower.

The total vision for Townsite could take years to see through, but with that "one bite at a time" mentality, Schmanke hopes to develop a property that contributes to the ongoing development of the capital city and its downtown corridor.

"I see us gaining momentum again," Schmanke said. "We're very positive about the future of not only Topeka but downtown. We're big fans of what's going on, and we hope to contribute in our own way."