Nobody said it was going to be easy to undertake a major downtown revitalization in the middle of a historic downturn, and it hasnt been. But slowly, if not always surely, things are changing for the better thanks to Project Downtown.
The openings of the beautifully restored Drury Plaza Hotel Broadview, the new Fairfield Inn and Suites at WaterWalk, and the reinvented Hotel at WaterWalk have put out a fresh welcome mat downtown for visitors.
The Cargill Innovation Center and Airbus engineering expansion have marked downtown as a fertile place for businesses to chart the future.
The Flats 324 and Finn Lofts have expanded options for apartment living. The new Central Family YMCA is under construction, and the eyesore of the old Coleman factory is gone.
A new 12-bank Wichita loan consortium is in place to help with bridge and gap funding to downtown projects. Wichita Downtown Development Corp.s Innovation Center is open.
And Intrust Bank Arena is nearing the two-year mark for drawing acts and people to the citys core, as the Old Town nightlife and shopping district prepares to celebrate its 20-year milestone this week.
Its a lot to take in. It also leaves a lot to be done, amid a rising and increasingly well-organized chorus of opposition about City Halls involvement.
An impressive show of resolve under such fire came last week, as the Wichita City Council listened to three hours of reasons not to provide public financing and tools for the $30 million Ambassador boutique hotel, then voted 5-1 to proceed.
Wichita needs Douglas Place, which stands to put the long-dormant Union National Bank to good use and stir other development along the crucial Douglas corridor as it increases downtowns hotel beds and properly honors the Dockum lunch-counter sit-in that occurred on the site.
Americans for Prosperity Kansas later announced a protest petition drive aimed at forcing a public vote on the guest-tax rebate within the projects public financing. Given the public mood about government spending, the critics may have no trouble getting the necessary 2,528 verifiable signatures and forcing a ballot question. Considering the likely turnout for such an election, the opponents could prevail. If so, they will have made an ideological point most people already agree with that it would be best if developers paid for downtown development.
But the reality is, as Tulsa-based hotel developer Paul Coury of the Douglas Place development team told the City Council, that tight financing has developers scrambling for whatever incentives are available in order to make their projects not only work for them but happen at all. Rejecting the use of such tools means inviting more decay and inactivity downtown.
I think Wichita is very lucky in that you have a lot of good things going on in your downtown, Coury told the council.
Those at the forefront of Project Downtown, starting with Mayor Carl Brewer, should feel proud of the progress so far, and encouraged to press on.