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Open house marks Kansas Leadership Center’s new home

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, Oct. 14, 2013, at 10:20 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013, at 12:09 a.m.

Six years after the Kansas Leadership Center started, it has finally found its permanent home at 325 E. Douglas.

After about a year, construction for the center was completed and more than 100 people gathered Monday night at an open house.

“On the one hand, it’s just a building. On the other hand, it’s the embodiment of an idea that started 20 years ago and that will last for generations to come,” said Ed O’Malley, a former state legislator from Johnson County who moved to Wichita in 2007 to be president and CEO of the Kansas Leadership Center.

The center offers leadership training programs for both individuals and organizations. While some of the training is free or scholarships are offered, other programs charge a fee.

O’Malley’s goals and initiatives for the center are not small: work to reduce childhood poverty, increase minority-owned businesses, improve the economy of southeast Kansas and improve the health of south-central Kansans.

“We reach just under 1,000 Kansans per year now, and we’d like to grow that significantly,” he said. “We’re always looking for new partnerships.”

For Alicia Sanchez, who has been director of multicultural affairs at Wichita State University since July, the yearlong group leadership training she received at the Kansas Leadership Center helped propel her into that position.

“I felt that in order to make a larger impact, I needed to take on a larger role and be a voice for underrepresented students,” said Sanchez, who was previously the assistant director of admissions at WSU. “That training really prepared me to make that step, even though leadership and authority don’t always go hand in hand.”

Part of health foundation

The leadership center is adjacent to its primary funding provider, the Kansas Health Foundation, which had more than $469 million in assets at the end of 2012 and is the largest philanthropic entity in the state.

The health foundation initially came up with the idea of a leadership center many years ago, said Steve Coen, Kansas Health Foundation president and CEO. After a series of listening tours, the health foundation determined that the biggest factor in improving the health of Kansans was to help train leaders.

“What we found was that the most important factors for the success of programs was who the leader was and how strong they were,” Coen said.

“We view health in a broader way than just health care. It’s economic health, education of people – what some people call the social determinants of health. Income and education all have an impact on health outcomes.”

The health foundation initially made a commitment of $30 million over 10 years for the leadership center when it started in 2007. After the 10 years are up, Coen said, the foundation will have a continuing relationship with the center, and it’s likely it will designate more funding for the center in the future.

The building will also serve as a conference center for the foundation.

Economic development

The leadership center is one of the larger downtown development projects in the past several years. The $9 million, 36,000-square-foot building is LEED Gold certified and has many conference and meeting rooms and a 200-seat auditorium.

Coen said the health foundation has had a long-standing commitment to downtown since it moved into a former Brick’s Menswear store on Douglas in the mid-1990s.

“Honestly, at that point, most people had given up on downtown,” he said.

The city’s decision to build a parking garage behind what is now the leadership center made it possible for the foundation to turn its parking lot into the new leadership center, he said.

“We believe in downtown Wichita,” O’Malley said. “We have always been committed to building this in the downtown area and are proud to be a part of the resurgence in downtown Wichita.

“We want to draw people from all around Kansas and beyond. We want the leadership center to be a place people can visit but also to experience Wichita and all the great things we have to offer.”

City Council member Lavonta Williams attended Monday’s open house.

“For us, this is a monumental building,” she said. “It’s one of the first buildings in years to be built from the ground up in the downtown area.”

Williams said she hopes that people who come to area hotels will look at it as a potential venue for meetings and conferences.

“As a health enthusiast and a committee member with members of the Kansas Health Foundation, there are so many things that the foundation does that I totally agree with,” Williams said. “They’re raising awareness, and this will help create leaders for the city of Wichita and Kansas. It’s a win-win.

“They’re helping to develop future committee members and future community leaders at all ages. You’re never too old or too young to be a leader.”

Reach Kelsey Ryan at 316-269-6752 or kryan@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @kelsey_ryan.

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