The big blue skyscraper in downtown Wichita Falls started out its life as a bank. At one time this was a bustling part of downtown, but through the years, downtown lost its bustle. Stores closed and empty buildings occupied the streets. The area became sketchy with a real criminal element. However, there is a renewed effort to revitalize downtown and now it is safe and entertaining. Part of that is breathing new life into Big Blue, and entrepreneur Will Kelty has tasked himself with that responsibility.
Will purchased the building 5 years ago and it has undergone a major revitalization of its own. “When we turned the water on in the building, we had over 200 water leaks and a waterfall in the lobby. I had no idea how much work it was going to be to get it up and running,” he shared. But he forged ahead. “The elevators didn’t work so we fixed them and realized that they were unreliable, so we started modernizing them,” he continued. The first modernized elevator is now installed in the building and progress is being made with the others. Also, the lobby got a new face lift. It is now an open concept space, with all the walls taken down that had the lobby segmented for use as a bank. This lobby is being used for various events including the After Hours Art Walks. The Art Walks occur on the first Thursday of the month from April through October. Visual artists fill the space along with musicians and draw in the people by the droves.
Will said that when he arrived in Wichita Falls, he stood in the middle of 8th Street and Scott and couldn’t see a single soul. The only movement was a fox running down the street. However, downtown is now coming alive with coffee shops, bars, art galleries, antique stores, and restaurants, just to name a few of the businesses clamoring to be a part of downtown now.
“My two passions, other than my wife Annette, have been real estate and software, so many years ago I started a software company with a colleague. We build it into a business and ended up selling that to Canadian firm,” he said.
“I’m from California, but along the way we ended up locating the business in San Antonio, so I was flying out to San Antonio quite a bit. At some point in this process, I decided that I wanted to invest in some real estate. I had redone some single-family homes in California. I did a 1914 craftsman under the Hollywood sign. I also did a 1933 Spanish style house in the Hollywood Hills, but I wanted to do something different,” he explained. “I found a fifty-seven-unit apartment building in San Antonio and I struggled and had all kinds of problems with it, and I learned all the ins and outs of what it takes to run an apartment building. During that time period, we turned around and sold the software business to a Canadian firm. My business partner was just lounging while I was struggling with that apartment building and I said, ‘Hey, will you come help me with this apartment building and keep an eye on it because you live in Texas, and it is a lot easier for you to drop by and keep an eye on it? He helped me out with that property and said, ‘I kind of like this.’ So, we bought a 44-unit apartment building there. They have all been properties that have been kind of trashed. For instance, in that 44-unit apartment building, there was a scary side of it. We were doing our due diligence and going into the units. We would find someone living there and have to kick them out.”
He and his friend partnered on another property in in San Antonio that was trashed and turned it around. “Then I got another bug, and I decided that I wanted to expand outside of San Antonio. I thought I should diversify a little bit, so I took a look at Houston. I decided to branch out on my own, so I bought a property in Houston. It was 240 units”.
With all that experience to lean on, Will began looking for a property in Dallas; and that is where he heard about Big Blue. He chose to invest in the downtown area and has since purchased 2 more buildings. The building where 8th Street Coffee House is located on the corner of 8th and Scott which has 40 apartments that will be available soon, and according to Will, they are all spoken for. He also bought the old hotel in which the Highlander Public House is located right across the street from Big Blue. He plans to redo it into apartments to possibly be used for Midwestern State University students housing.
He said that for a city this size, we should have 1,000 units available for housing downtown, and with his investments, Wichita Falls is moving in that direction. He is proud of the diversity in Big Blue. The building is beautiful again. The tenants include lawyers, artists, and Dexter Learning, which is pioneering a whole new education platform on the second floor for children and adults. For Wichita Falls to grow, he said that we need a strong downtown and downtown is coming back with a second wind. Because of the “good bones” in Wichita Falls, he and others have chosen to invest their time and money into making downtown shine again. Things are really looking up for Wichita Falls.
– Cindy Kahler Thomas