Mayor Carl Brewer called on Wichitans to help their neighbors and donate to campaigns to help people in need in an otherwise no-frills State of the City address at City Hall on Tuesday evening.
Brewer's speech came as the city finishes one tough budget year and starts another that could be worse.
He made no mention of potential layoffs or reductions to city services that could be forced by budget deficits. But he noted the city's money-saving efforts last year to privatize parks mowing and the print shop at City Hall.
Brewer also listed accomplishments in 2009, such as the opening of Intrust Bank Arena, the expansion of Kellogg past Rock Road and the opening of three new fire stations. He pledged to push for continued redevelopment of downtown and to add new jobs to the struggling local economy.
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But he dedicated the most powerful parts of his speech to those in need.
He highlighted efforts to clean up neighborhoods and wipe out chronic homelessness, including a temporary housing program that helped give 55 homeless people a place to stay.
"We also have an obligation to care for and assist those who are out of work as our economic downturn continues and our unemployment rises," he said.
Brewer asked everyone to donate to the No More Hungry Kids campaign that sends backpacks of food home with students in need.
And he called on Wichitans to reach out to others by giving a meal to a struggling family, donating food and clothing, and running errands for someone in need.
"Our residents have encountered a global economic crisis, a historic national recession and thousands of local layoffs," Brewer said. "But we see opportunities for growth and prosperity in those obstacles."
As an example, he highlighted the Love Wichita program that brought together about 3,000 people from churches to repair homes for those in need.
He said the project already has 36 churches committed to another Love Wichita day in April.
Those programs resonated with Keith Hines, pastor of a north Wichita church, who was laid off from his welding job at Hawker Beechcraft and now does contract maintenance with the company for less than half his old wage.
"Right now, it's time to come together," he said. "A lot of people are coming to the churches and people in the church don't have anything either. It's rough all the way around."
But Hines said he wishes Brewer would have voiced support for people killed, wounded and in need in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti.
"As a city, we should have done something to show them we're with them," he said.
Joe Shaffer, who represents Ecofuel and hopes to strike a business relationship with the city, liked that Brewer focused on positive accomplishments and a strong future.
"I like that he was diverse in that he wants to bring new business to Wichita," he said.
This was Brewer's third State of the City address since he was elected in 2007.
The only slips in the speech were when the teleprompters he used went out temporarily and he was forced to read from a computer at the lectern.
Brewer also said the council approved $22 million in improvements for Century II on Tuesday. It did not. It approved $900,000 on its consent agenda. The $22 million in improvements is part of a 10-year capital improvement program the council is poised to vote on Feb. 2.
In past addresses, Brewer has announced major developments, but this year's speech didn't include any.
He continued to key on downtown development, a primary theme of his mayorship.
The city has used controversial tax incentives to bolster several developments downtown in recent years. Brewer says the city has refocused on ensuring that such incentives lead to a good return on investment — and significant private investment.
And he noted that a Boston-based firm, Goody Clancy, is in the midst of creating a 20-year revitalization plan.
"Even in difficult economic times, residents recognize we must rebuild and re-energize our downtown if we are going to be a premier community," he said.