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One of Topeka’s most iconic retail spaces will soon house portions of the city’s emerging innovation district as high-profile real estate deals close, cementing the long-planned entrepreneurial hub as a reality.
Wolfe’s Camera Shop — which closed its 635 South Kansas Avenue storefront in July after 97 years in operation — has been acquired by BioRealty, the firm chosen to develop the 60,000-square-foot ASTRA (Animal, Science, Technology, Research and Agriculture) Innovation Center which will anchor Topeka’s $14.5 million ASTRA Innovation District, GO Topeka announced Thursday.
“I am thrilled that Topeka has chosen to fully subscribe to this vision and I know it will pay huge dividends in the future in terms of higher wage jobs, opportunities for local and regional talent and investments in innovative, futureproof companies,” said Katrin Bridges, senior vice president of innovation at GO Topeka.
Two neighboring properties between 633 south Kansas Avenue and 627 South Kansas Avenue have also been acquired by BioRealty and will round out the catalytic site, GO Topeka said, noting additional partner tenants will soon be announced.
Bridges noted the acquisition is a second milestone in reimagining Topeka as an innovation leader, following its selection in 2019 as the site of a Plug and Play Tech Center-backed accelerator program.
The ASTRA Innovation Center is expected to tap into the momentum of the Plug and Play Animal Health Accelerator which intends to bring 20 global startups to the Kansas capital city each year.
The site is expected to offer wet labs, coworking and meeting space, private offices and a rooftop event space.
With the heart of downtown Topeka now the known home of the rising innovation hub, Bridges told Startland News it wasn’t the organization’s first choice during initial planning for the site.
“Both developers we consulted with independently came back with a recommendation that this center needs to be in downtown Topeka,” she recalled.
“The investment in the downtown core over the past 10 years — in terms of entertainment, walkability, and basic needs like great restaurants and coffee shops are all in place now to flesh out everything a startup would want in an environment to grow their business.”
GO Topeka hopes to channel such energy as it continues to reimagine itself as a world leader in innovation with the center and its anticipated potential to create nearly 40 new jobs in coming years and an expected annual economic impact of $8.3 million.
And the city is no stranger to gambling on its future, added Molly Howey, president of GO Topeka.
“GO Topeka purchased land at the Kanza Fire Commerce Park in 2009. One billion dollars in capital investment followed, positioning our city to become a leader in the supply chain for the Midwest,” Howey said in a release.
“The ASTRA Innovation Center has the potential to be equally catalytic. This center will allow GO Topeka the ability to offer incentivized lease space to startups and reinforce our influence in the animal health and agriculture technology sectors for years to come.”
The city’s focus on innovation could generate economic impact that exceeds $1 billion in the next decade, the organization said.
“This investment sends a signal to startups and entrepreneurs across the country,” added Kevin Cook, Shawnee County commissioner. “Topeka and Shawnee County are ready to support your growth, and invest in your success. This campus is just one more reason why businesses will grow and succeed in Topeka.”
Curious about what’s being built in Topeka? Click here for a Startland News deep dive into the city’s emerging innovation hub and Bridges work to create new entrepreneurial energy in the city.
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.