The public has spoken about the future of Wichita’s downtown. Some of the answers surprised the people preparing for next month’s rollout of Wichita’s downtown revitalization master plan.
Perhaps none was more surprising than the public’s insistence that downtown be much more than an entertainment venue, according to information compiled by the city’s planning consultant, Goody Clancy.
“What we’ve heard is that downtown represents a lot of different things to the community,” said Jeff Fluhr, president of the Wichita Downtown Development Corp.
“People see downtown Wichita through a lot of different lenses — a government center, an employment center, a financial center, a cultural and arts center, an entertainment center, potentially an education center.
“Downtown’s definition has been broadened through this process.”
The completed master plan will be unveiled at 5 p.m. Sept. 28 at the Bank of America building, a change in the original date and venue.
Two 45-minute public presentations are planned, bracketing remarks from Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer.
Wichita banker Gary Schmitt said he hopes the Goody Clancy plan becomes a catalyst to lure companies back downtown.
“The plan would move along faster if we can get companies back to locating downtown,” he said.
Jon Rolph, chairman of Visioneering Wichita, said downtown’s multiple roles have been ongoing themes throughout the planning process.
“I think that the bottom line is that downtown means different things to different people, but there are commonalties shared by everyone,” he said.
“It’s encouraging to me that people see all the different things that our downtown represents.”
Here are a few of the highlights, compiled through nine months of listening tours by Goody Clancy and city officials:„ Get a grocery store downtown, the public said early, often and loudly — at whatever cost necessary.
“For a lot of people, I think the grocery store is a symbol or a tipping point as far as the logistics of living downtown,” Rolph said. “If the city can get that done, I think a store would be a real symbol to everyone that something’s turned downtown.”
David Dixon, the Goody Clancy consultant, agreed, but said downtown Wichita’s population must grow before a store becomes financially viable.
“To support a retailer now, you’re going to have to do more than just subsidize rent,” he said. “You’re going to have to make up a sales gap for a while.”
However, several food market venues are succeeding in revitalized downtowns, Dixon said.
„ More workers downtown means the necessity of more day care opportunities for their children.
„ Create more housing options downtown, including lower pricing to attract younger and lower income residents.
“That’s absolutely something that needs to come out of this process,” Rolph said.
But how that lower-cost housing can be financed is a “deal-by-deal outlook,” he said.
“I think that one of the things we’ve found in this process is that there are a lot of tools in the toolbox to move projects like these, and they don’t have to involve taxpayer money.”
„ Address the perception that downtown is unsafe.
„ Bring more activities and people to the Arkansas River. Use it as a drawing card for the city and region.
„ Upgrade downtown transit and enhance the opportunities to “park once.”
„ Clean up and aggressively market prominent vacant lots, buildings and storefronts.
The Sept. 28 meeting is a benchmark in a planning process in what Dixon called a “unique city.”
“I’d say that somehow, for some reason, a lot of folks in Wichita are more aware of the civic dimension of things,” he said.
“I’ve been fascinated by your angst about keeping the library a downtown library. The real interest you have in transit. The real interest in downtown housing. The understanding of downtown as a neighborhood.
“To some extent, you can say that we were surprised by Wichita.”