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Gary Schmitt: Wichita is a city of opportunity

  • Published Sunday, Dec. 8, 2013, at 12 a.m.

The Wichita community played host this fall to two very different groups. Yet both the business group from Atlanta and the group of graduate students from Portland, Ore., saw our progress and potential future. Their assessment: Wichita has lots of opportunity, and, especially important, the cost to be part of that opportunity is within reach.

They saw the redeveloped Block One downtown and its new Kansas Leadership Center building; plans for Union Station and multiple sites on the riverfront; and the nearby neighborhoods of Old Town and Delano, experiencing the strength of the link to downtown.

It was interesting to hear them talk about how the cost to get into other markets is so high, and how it’s hard to make your own mark or take advantage of an opportunity. But that’s not true in Wichita: the economics, the groundwork and the timing are right for groups and people to be part of an exciting story, part of the future.

Our goal at the Wichita Downtown Development Corp. is to unlock that potential of opportunity for every interested group and person. Research shows that healthy downtowns are essential to economically strong regions, and we know that this is what people want for our community – a vibrant economy with great jobs and a great quality of life.

During the past year, WDDC has had numerous planning sessions at the Design and Innovation Center, hosting more than 60 group meetings such as Kansas State University architectural students generating ideas for downtown catalyst sites. Staff and volunteers have also conducted a multitude of meetings with local and national developers and investors on potential projects.

We’re working with partners to tell Wichita’s story of opportunity. We’re sharing the market analysis on downtown, and we continue to conduct further economic research. We’re working with Go Wichita on the future of conventions in our community and especially on the vital role the arts play in Downtown Wichita and their profound impact on our economy and our quality of life.

It’s been three years since the Wichita City Council and other groups endorsed Project Downtown. This was an important investment in our future that has paid off in millions of dollars in new investment. Next year promises to be as exciting. There are 600 new housing units in various stages of development that will come onto the market in the next two years. Plans are well underway for additional new residential and commercial developments on the west bank and in other downtown locations.

WDDC will continue to be the place that initiates development ideas and works to advance every inquiry from local and national developers wanting to invest here. Meanwhile, we continue to push ourselves. How do we take our opportunities even further? How do we act more quickly? How do we further develop the “downtown” vision? It’s imperative that we continually increase our competitiveness as a community to expand primary jobs and the quality of life.

Wichita is a city of opportunity that is still accessible and approachable. Let’s combine that with a national reputation as a place where a person or group can make investment happen and become part of our story and great future.

Gary Schmitt is chairman of the Wichita Downtown Development Corp. and division director of commercial real estate lending at Intrust Bank.

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