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Wichita City Council expected to OK study of performing arts needs

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013, at 10:28 p.m.
  • Updated Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014, at 2:06 p.m.

Wichita City Council members on Tuesday are expected to agree to a performing arts market study, a key step as the council considers the long-term future of Century II.

The council will consider a planning and design contract with Kansas City-based Populous and GLMV Architecture of Wichita for planning and design of a new convention center and the future home of the city’s performing arts community, including Music Theatre of Wichita, Wichita Grand Opera and the Wichita Symphony.

The study, however, will now incorporate a comprehensive look at the needs of Wichita performing arts, a study that will be financed jointly by Go Wichita, the city’s arts council and Music Theatre at a cost of between $30,000 and $50,000, with no taxpayer money involved, said Wayne Bryan, producing artistic director of Music Theatre.

Century II is home to all three arts organizations, along with support facilities for each.

Council member Jeff Longwell, who asked for the performing arts study last month, praised the alliance among the groups.

“I don’t know how we can proceed with configurations on that site until we have a handle on what performing arts needs,” he said. “We have a very successful arts program at Century II that can stand on its own, certainly, but there’s certainly value in seeing how they fit in.”

“Absolutely we are pleased,” Bryan said. “This was the city realizing that a step has been skipped here, an important one.”

Bryan said the performing arts generate about $66 million a year in revenue in Wichita.

“It would seem that something bringing that kind of money and jobs into Wichita without asking for much in return deserves the consideration of how we should strengthen performing arts,” he said.

The results of the arts needs assessment will be collected and used by Populous and GMLV along with the results of the convention market assessment, which showed that Wichita can handle more national conventions.

Last month, Bryan told The Eagle, “It has not yet been truly contemplated what the potential for the arts is in Wichita, what growth could be, what different organizations might use an expanded facility – be it a reconfigured Century II or a new facility altogether.

“That is a real concern to the arts leaders I know, because it seems like action is being contemplated based on very incomplete information.”

On Nov. 19, the council delayed action on the Populous/GMLV hiring until the performing arts study could be examined further.

Populous is the former HOK Sport, an architectural firm best known for its design of sporting stadiums and arenas.

The convention consultant, Conventions Sports and Leisure, recommended the construction of a new or expanded expo hall, potentially with the retrofitting of Century II for the performing arts. The iconic blue-domed building also could be razed for a new convention and performing arts facility.

Council members are weighing a long-term sales tax initiative that could go to voters as early as next fall. Part of that initiative could be expanded convention space and a new performing arts center or a remodeled Century II.

Reach Bill Wilson at 316-268-6290 or bwilson@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @bwilsoneagle.

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