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What 2014 will bring for Wichita and Kansas

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2013, at 9:59 a.m.
  • Updated Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, at 10:03 p.m.

How long can Wichita State University’s basketball team keep winning?

Which way will the Kansas Supreme Court rule on education funding?

Can the state’s Democrats mount a legitimate challenge to Gov. Sam Brownback?

The new year will reveal those answers and more.

Wichita will say goodbye to Boeing and hello to new stores, attractions and a slew of downtown apartments.

As construction begins on a new Southeast High School in Wichita, restoration work should finally wrap up at the Kansas Statehouse in Topeka.

We’ll cheer America’s Olympic athletes and new bridges over the Big Ditch.

As Wichita marks another turn of the calendar, here are some notable events to expect in 2014:

• The historic Kansas Statehouse in Topeka will shine anew, after a $332 million facelift that began more than a decade ago.

The renovation includes a new copper skin on the roof and dome, updated water, electrical, heating and air-conditioning systems, bigger meeting rooms, an underground parking garage and a new basement visitors center set to open this week. The project, completed in phases, has restored the building to the look of nearly a century ago while providing new office space for state officials and legislators.

• Kansas school officials and lawmakers are awaiting a Kansas Supreme Court ruling that will steer discussion on education funding this year and beyond.

Wichita and other school districts have sued the state, arguing that the Legislature has failed its constitutional duty to provide adequate funding to schools. A three-judge panel ruled in favor of the districts, calling for lawmakers to raise the base per-pupil state aid from $3,838 to $4,492, at a cost of about $437 million statewide.

The final decision, however, will come on the state’s appeal to the state Supreme Court – a decision that is expected sometime over the next month.

• In politics, Gov. Sam Brownback is expected to seek a second term and likely will face Rep. Paul Davis, the House minority leader from Lawrence, in the November election. Davis announced in October that Wichita businesswoman Jill Docking will join him on the Democratic ticket.

Kris Kobach, the current Republican secretary of state who has been a polarizing figure for his efforts to crack down on illegal immigrants in Kansas and beyond, has drawn Democratic opposition from Jean Schodorf, a former Republican state senator from Wichita.

Sen. Pat Roberts will face a tea party opponent, Milton Wolf, in this year’s Republican primary. The field for the 2015 Wichita mayor’s race should become more clear, as potential candidates jockey to replace Carl Brewer, who can’t run again because of term limits.

And there could be a face-off between two Republicans this fall for the District 5 seat on the Sedgwick County Commission, as Republican state Rep. Jim Howell plans to run against incumbent Jim Skelton. The outcome of that race could shift the balance of power on the commission, which has logged many 3-2 decisions with Skelton, Tim Norton and Dave Unruh in the majority.

• About two years after Boeing announced that it planned to close its Wichita facility, company officials say the planemaker is on track to shut down in late March. Boeing plans to move work – and workers – to Oklahoma City, San Antonio and Puget Sound in Washington state.

And Cessna Aircraft and Beechcraft Corp. will become members of the same corporate family. Cessna’s parent company, Textron Inc., announced in December that it had purchased Beechcraft for $1.4 billion. The transaction is expected to close in the first half of 2014.

• Construction on a new Southeast High School near 127th Street East and Pawnee – by far the largest project of the 2008 bond issue – is expected to start. The school, estimated to cost nearly $56 million, would open in 2016.

• Several large street projects are expected to wrap up in 2014, including: two flyover bridges connecting I-235 to 13th Street on the west side of the Big Ditch; the widening of Central from 119th West to 135th West; a Broadway bridge near 34th Street South; and drainage work on South Meridian.

At Wichita State, a new $65 million residence hall and dining center for first-year students should be ready for the fall 2014 semester. Construction continues on a $30 million expansion of Rhatigan Student Center.

A new $101.5 million airport terminal at Wichita Mid-Continent Airport continues to take shape on its way to an early 2015 opening. (A committee appointed by the City Council will weigh whether to rename it Wichita Dwight D. Eisenhower International (or National) Airport.)

And a number of new apartments will open this year in the city’s core, with more on the way.

• Botanica will expand again this year, adding a dedicated space for weddings and other rentals, a Chinese garden, new library space, offices and a revamped main entrance. Officials say the events center should open in April and the Chinese Garden in the fall of 2014.

• Wichita leaders likely will decide the scope and future of the city’s public transit system, which advocates say will run out of money without new funding. Officials plan to recommend buses powered by natural gas instead of diesel fuel, as the city begins a multiyear plan to replace its aging fleet. Meanwhile, some City Council members are weighing whether to ask Wichita voters to approve a long-term city sales tax to pay for public transit and a multitude of projects, including economic development, street repairs, water and sewer system upgrades and repairs to Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.

• On the retail scene, 2014 may finally bring corporate confirmation of a new Costco at Kellogg and Webb Road. By late summer or early fall, a long-awaited Whole Foods grocery, Bread & Circus, will open in a new phase of the Waterfront development at 13th and Webb Road.

There’s also plenty of interest in a new Sam’s Club that will open near NewMarket Square in northwest Wichita, and several new CVS stores planned for Wichita.

And signs point to a new DSW, or Designer Shoe Warehouse, at 21st and Maize Road.

• Local basketball fans may want to mark their calendars for April 5 and 7 and map a route to AT&T Stadium in Dallas, the site of this year’s Final Four. WSU is starting the new year with a 13-0 record and top 10 ranking in both polls. The Shockers are a heavy favorite to win the Missouri Valley Conference and figure to be a high seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Expectations are high in Lawrence as well, as top-ranked recruits Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid may figure into the NBA draft in June after playing for the Jayhawks.

Sports fans also are looking forward to a Kansas City Chiefs playoff game on Saturday in Indianapolis, Todd Butler’s first game as WSU’s new baseball coach, and the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

• Once again, Wichita’s entertainment agenda includes some big-name country acts – George Strait, Willie Nelson and Lady Antebellum. Theater-goers will be treated to classic musicals “South Pacific,” “West Side Story” and “Hair,” as well as Tyler Perry’s newest stage play.

• At movie theaters, hot tickets will include “Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return,” based on L. Frank Baum’s “Dorothy of Oz,” and “Maleficent,” the untold backstory of the witch from Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty.”

Moviegoers also can expect the usual slew of superhero sequels (Captain America, Spider-Man, X-Men and Transformers), monster flicks (Frankenstein, Godzilla, Planet of the Apes) and screen adaptations of popular books or TV shows (“The Giver,” “Divergent,” “Vampire Academy” and “Veronica Mars”).

Also on tap: new chapters in the Hobbit and Hunger Games series.

• Wesley Medical Center should wrap up an 18-month, $36 million renovation of its women’s care units. The hospital, which delivers more than 6,000 babies a year, is renovating 65 rooms, adding 16 rooms, remodeling hallways and public spaces, and adding security doors on the third, fourth and fifth floors.

• If you’re having a baby in 2014 and it happens after Jan. 31, your child will be born in the Year of the Horse and, according to the Chinese zodiac, will be active, energetic and quick-witted. Horse people are thought to have contradictions in their character: proud yet sweet-natured, envious but tolerant, a desire to belong coupled with a need for independence.

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or stobias@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @suzannetobias.

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