Long-awaited plans are beginning to crystallize to update and improve the Century II Convention and Performing Arts Center south of Douglas on the east bank of the Arkansas River.
The City Council received a consultant’s report and recommendations from City Manager Robert Layton on how to proceed Tuesday night. Layton and Mayor Jeff Longwell met with Wichita Eagle writers and editors Wednesday to talk about how they planned to proceed.
Officials say the convention center and performing arts center will be dealt with separately, with the convention center renovation moving more quickly.
Here’s a look at what’s coming up:
I. Is the city going to tear down the Century II?
The short answer is almost certainly not. The iconic performing arts center building with its round blue roof will likely grace Wichita’s skyline for years to come. City Manager Robert Layton has offered a broad outline of a plan to keep the building and fix it up with phased-in improvements over time, and City Council members seem to agree. Layton said that will be the plan going forward unless unforeseen and extraordinary circumstances arise.
II. Why not a new convention/performing arts center?
The consultant studied two scenarios: Keep the blue roof building but repurpose it and move performing arts to a new venue or venues to be built downtown, or tear down the existing Century II and start over with a new convention/performing arts center. Both those options carried hefty price tags – $272 million for the renovation option and $492 for a complete replacement – that would have required substantial new taxes. Both scenarios were seen as too expensive.
III. What’s planned for the convention hall?
Layton’s recommendation is to expand it by about 150,000 square feet, update the interior and explore ways to possibly tie it together with the soon-to-be-vacant downtown library building. There are also operational issues the city wants to address, including possibly relocating the loading docks so it will be easier for convention organizers to set up and take down.
IV. What happens next with the performing arts building?
The city is planning a series of public meetings where the public will be invited to share any concerns they have about the performing arts part of the building and offer their suggestions about how to fix them. The city will appoint a blue-ribbon committee (or blue-roof committee) to evaluate the public input and make recommendations to the City Council.
V. Who will decide what happens on the convention side?
The city expects to retain a consultant to work with city staff and local stakeholders on how to improve the convention center and the city’s convention business overall. The City Council will have the final say on improvements.
VI. How will the city pay for this?
The consultants offered several recommendations for raising money to pay for Century II improvements. Some of the land around the building could be sold or leased for private development to complement the convention business and commercial development being planned on the west bank of the Arkansas river. The city might also consider selling naming and advertising rights to the buildings. Also, the city might contract out operation of the center to a third party to eliminate an annual $1.2 million operating deficit.
VII. How much money would that generate?
The combination of operational savings, naming/advertising rights and development of about 9 acres around Century II could generate about $77 million for center improvements, the consultant report said. The cost of improvements has not been determined and projects will likely be based on the funding available.
VIII. Who will run Century II going forward?
That’s up in the air. Arup consultants strongly recommended splitting the convention and performing-arts operations and having them managed separately. Layton has recommended four possible scenarios: Contract for private management; lease facilities long term to a third party; enter talks with Sedgwick County for joint management of Century II and the county-owned Intrust Bank Arena; and/or contract with Visit Wichita, the city’s convention and visitors bureau.