Jerry Shelor can tell stories.
It’s easy to get sidetracked from current conversation topics into his tales from decades of lobbying the Kansas Legislature, taking a dive into personalities of top state officials and rarely exposed behind-the-scenes maneuvering on issues that changed the Kansas landscape.
But it’s not just the legal and political landscape that Shelor has shifted. He turned toward making a mark on Topeka’s downtown in 2000.
Along with his friend, Mike Fox, Shelor purchased property on the corner of 10th Avenue and Quincy Street, which at the time was home to a dilapidated garage but would soon become Quincy Street Plaza.
The vision was to create a gathering place with international cuisine, featuring varied restaurants. In addition, upstairs space became lofts, and Shelor located his business in another space on the first floor. Today, Daylight Donuts anchors the corner of the plaza, and the Globe Indian Cuisine and Stephanie’s Hair Salon are right next door. Newly opened in May is Bruno’s Downtown Grill and Bar.
In the beginning, Shelor said he and Fox “came up with a vision” for the property, focused on creating a spot that would give passers-by a good feeling about the city. Many people come into Topeka from the nearby Interstate 70 ramp, and Shelor said he wanted to affect how they thought about the capital.
“The entrance to our capital should look like the front door, not the back door. We said, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to see people sitting in a courtyard, enjoying meals and socializing,’ ” he said. “I think that sets the tone in people’s mind that you’re a modern, progressive city.”
The concept of an open-air garden on the property’s east side, near Daylight Donuts, was born. Today, Shelor fills containers with flowers and does much of the planting himself to beautify the space.
“I’m a farm kid,” he said. “I like planting things.”
Shelor, who said he’s been told over and over again that he won’t succeed, believes in the what’s happening downtown.
“I’m excited. We’re on the verge of greatness,” he said. “A synergy’s being created.”
Over the years, Shelor bought Fox out of the business as Fox pursued other interests, including The Celtic Fox. But he kept the vision for the space, wanting to draw in restaurants and businesses that added unique flavor to the downtown area.
“My sole concern is to improve this corner,” he said. “It’s all pieces of a puzzle that we have to put together and make it work. I’m just part of a big puzzle.”
Shelor isn’t resting on his laurels. He recently purchased the building that houses Arturo’s Mexican Restaurant at 105 S.E. 10th Ave., which he’s been trying to acquire for years.
Shelor and Fox also plunged into the loft market, and now Shelor is adding a new loft to the three they already had in the building. He’s converting some office space to loft space.
“It’s easier at this point to rent lofts than it is office space,” he said.
Like other downtown investors, Shelor is appreciative of the efforts made to help developers in the area. He built the lofts using Downtown Topeka Inc. grants.
“I would not have done the lofts had DTI not done the grants,” he said.