Old Town District
Overview and History
Wichita’s Old Town District is one of the most popular spots in the city, but its history may not be as well known. The district has a long and fascinating history that has contributed to its current popularity.
Originally established in the 1860s as a trading post, the area quickly grew into a bustling hub for commerce and industry. By the early 1900s, Old Town had become the center of Wichita’s entertainment scene, with theaters, vaudeville houses, and dance halls attracting crowds from all over the region. It wasn’t until the 1980s that a group of local business owners began a revitalization effort that would transform the area into the vibrant cultural hub it is today. Thanks to their efforts, Old Town is now a thriving district filled with art galleries, restaurants, bars, and shops. Its historic architecture and charming atmosphere make it a popular destination for both locals and visitors alike. Discover more about Wichita’s Old Town District.
Zoning – Old Town Overlay District
In 1991, the City of Wichita adopted the Old Town Overlay District as a zoning district in the Wichita-Sedgwick County Unified Zoning Code. The purpose of the overlay district is to:
- Preserve the area’s special historic and architectural character; and
- Protect private property values and public investments in and near the Old Town Area.
The Old Town Overlay District works to accomplish this by:
- Ensuring that the exterior alterations to buildings and grounds are undertaken with sensitivity to the area's special character; and
- Recognizing the special location, architectural character and proposed land-use mix of the Old Town area within the City of Wichita by allowing appropriate deviations from the standards of the Underlying base District.
The Old Town Overlay District is available for review as part of the Wichita-Sedgwick County Unified Zoning Code Article III.C.4.
View the Old Town Zoning Code.
Adopted Updates and Changes – Tattoo and Body Piercing
In late 2022, a tattoo business opened in the Old Town Overlay District. Area stakeholders expressed support for allowing the business to remain in operation in Old Town. As a result, in September 2023 Wichita City Council approved the change to the Unified Zoning Code regarding the Old Town Overlay to allow Tattoo and Body Piercing Facility as a permitted use within the Old Town Overlay District. Also, add the conditions to the overlay that all Tattooing and Body Piercing facilities in the Old Town Overlay District shall be open by appointment only and will not be open for business prior to 10 a.m. and open no later than 10 p.m.
- In late 2022, Afterlife Tattooz began operating in violation of the Unified Zoning Code at 111 N. Mosley in the Old Town Overlay District.
- In September 2022, following a public complaint, Afterlife Tattooz received a violation notice from the Wichita-Sedgwick County Metropolitan Area Planning Department.
- In September 2022 and following conversations with representatives of Afterlife Tattooz, it was requested that any further enforcement action be suspended until after the situation could be presented to the Old Town Association for comment.
- On October 26, 2022, the Old Town Association met and discussed the Afterlife Tattooz Shop operations and violation of the Old Town Association Overlay District. Following the meeting, the Old Town Association President sent an email to City staff indicating that the Old Town Association Board voted to recommend an exception to the Old Town Overlay District for Afterlife Tattooz.
- On March 9, 2023, members of the Wichita-Sedgwick County Metropolitan Area Planning Commission – Advance Plans Committee (although not a quorum because a majority of members were absent) reviewed the possible changes to the Old Town Association and a majority of those members participating indicated they were ok with this item going to the full Wichita-Sedgwick County Metropolitan Area Planning Commission for consideration. The dissenting vote indicated that they were not in favor of allowing tattoo and body piercing businesses in Old Town.
- On April 26, 2023, City staff attended a meeting with representatives from the Old Town Association to better understand the needs and desires of the Association regarding tattoo businesses in Old Town.
- On June 8, 2023, the Wichita-Sedgwick County Metropolitan Area Planning Commission - Advance Plans Committee received a staff presentation on proposed changes to the Old Town Overlay District. There was not a quorum of the Committee in attendance. Multiple members of the Committee expressed support for the item to be presented to the full MAPC. There was discussion about whether or not it would be in the best interest of the community to allow tattooing businesses in Old Town.
- On July 27, 2023, the Wichita-Sedgwick County Metropolitan Area Planning Commission held a public hearing on the proposed changes to the Old Town Overlay District and voted to: 1) initiate the update the Unified Zoning Code; and 2) approve the Unified Zoning Code updates (9-1-1).
- Following the July 27th MAPC meeting, Planning staff were advised that additional legal notice publication was necessary for compliance with the legal notice for the Unified Zone Code change and that a public notice needs to be published in the County paper and another public hearing held at the MAPC.
- On August 14, 2023, the City of Wichita District Advisory Board VI considered the proposed changes to the Old Town Overlay District and voted unanimously to recommend approval by the City Council.
- On September 14, 2023, the MAPC voted to recommend approval of the staff-recommended updates to the Unified Zoning Code.
- On September 19, 2023, the Wichita City Council voted unanimously to recommend the proposed amendments and approve the changes to the Unified Zoning Code related to Old Town Overlay.
- On October 25, 2023, Sedgwick County the Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously to recommend the proposed amendments and approve the changes to the Unified Zoning Code related to Old Town Overlay.
The Old Town Parking District is a City of Wichita parking district for the Old Town area which provides shared parking so that property owners can meet the required off-street parking standards in the Unified Zoning Code. Property owners enter into agreements with the City for the parking and agree to pay a monthly amount for the parking. The fees collected are used to pay for construction of the parking improvements, maintenance, and operations.
Parking Links and Resources
Architectural Design Guidelines
This guidebook presents design guidelines for the Old Town Overlay District in Wichita, Kansas. The district boundaries encompass roughly twelve city blocks, containing approximately fifty properties. The district is bounded by Douglas Street, Washington Street, Second Street and the ATSF Railroad right-of-way.
The primary purpose of these guidelines is to provide guidance to property owners, City staff and the Old Town Design Review Committee in conducting its review and granting its approval of exterior alterations and additions to all structures and to proposed new construction and demolition in the district.
The guidelines reflect a basic preservation philosophy: to encourage the preservation and careful treatment of the historic resources within the district, while recognizing the need for the contemporary economic use of these structures. The guidelines neither dictate taste nor assure good design. Rather, they are intended to be a means for balancing the historic qualities of these structures with the demands of contemporary use.
Awards and Recognitions
In 2008, Old Town was recognized as one of the Great Places in America by the American Planning Association.