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fidelity bank's fancy new 'car park' adding ground-floor restaurant, rooftop urban farm

Denise Neil, Wichita Eagle

2/11/2021

 

The ground level of Fidelity Bank’s new five-story “car park” on Market between Waterman and English will soon have a new 4,000-square-foot restaurant on its main level.

And that’s not even the biggest news to come out of the project this week.

In addition to the restaurant — which Fidelity isn’t ready to share details about quite yet — the new parking garage will also be home to a rooftop urban farm that bank officials say will be the largest in the Midwest.

Called Rise Farms, the space will include 5,000 square feet of space where fresh vegetables and herbs will be grown in raised beds, large planters and a 24x70-foot long hoop house. The food the farm produces will be used to source not only by the new ground-level restaurant tenant but also by other restaurants around Wichita. Fidelity Bank employees will also be beneficiaries of the produce, and the first crops should be ready by fall.

The rooftop project also will include a private event center with retractable garage doors where Fidelity can house small events and gatherings during warm weather seasons as well as a 5,622  square-foot solar farm featuring 204 solar panels, which produce 380 watts each. The panels, which weigh about 35,000 pounds, are already up and running and producing enough energy to provide the power for the car park and its first-floor tenants.

The car park, which has 405 stalls, 24 electric car charging stations employees can use, and daytime public parking on the ground level, just opened and is the first part of a $51 million Fidelity Bank expansion project that also will include a new 10-story, 135,000 square-foot office tower at 100 E. English, where the bank’s parking deck is. Construction on that hasn’t started yet.

The idea for the rooftop farm came about after Fidelity polled its employees about what types of tenants they would like to see move into the 17,000 square feet of retail space on the car park’s ground level, said Aaron Bastian, Fidelity’s president and CEO. Overwhelmingly, they said they’d want a restaurant.

In the course of meeting with potential restaurant tenants, Bastian said, one suggested the idea of raising fresh produce on the roof.

Bastian, who said that local food culture is a topic he’s passionate about, liked the idea, but bank leadership decided they’d need to consult with an expert to pull it off.

“When we started talking about this idea, we wanted to go out and find people we could partner with to help create what we think could really be a cool downtown amenity,” Bastian said.

Fidelity has since partnered with Leah Dannar-Garcia, the owner of Firefly Farm at West 21st Street North and North 159th Street East, who already raises produce that she sells to about 38 different Wichita restaurants. She’ll be in charge of the farm and will offer its produce for sale to restaurants on her route. The ground-floor restaurant, though, will get first dibs. (Bastian said the bank has already identified a tenant for the restaurant space but is not ready to share details yet.)

Dannar-Garcia has been working with the bank for about a year, she said, and has mapped out her growing plans in detail. Once it gets going, she’ll have plants growing in beds and containers along both the north and west sides of the building as well as in the climate-controlled hoop house. The bank envisions a program in which Fidelity employees will be able to volunteer to work the farm, and they’ll also set up some type of program where employees can get boxes of fresh produce to take home.

Once it’s fully functioning, the farm will produce vegetables like beets, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts as well as greens like arugula, Swiss chard and spinach. It’ll also grow herbs, including parsley, cilantro and Greek oregano.

“We’re going to grow in all four seasons on this farm, so we’ll have spring, summer, fall and winter crops,” Dannar-Garcia said.

The project is a “natural extension” of the bank’s health, wellness and green initiatives, it says. One goal of the farm is that it produces zero wasted food.

“Whether that means it gets donated, we haven’t defined that yet,” said Melissa Knoeber, executive vice president at Fidelity who is also the bank’s director of culture and talent. “But that’s really important to us.”

Construction on Rise Farms should start in the spring, and the first crops should be ready by fall.