LOUISVILLE, Ky. —As the Visioneering Wichita group prepared to hear about Louisville's parks and waterfront development on Wednesday — the group's last day in the Kentucky city — a discussion kicked off about what Wichita leaders are going to do with the information they learned here once they got home.
Sedgwick County Commissioner Tim Norton, who has been on most of the city-to-city Visioneering visits, wanted to know from his peers whether the trip to Louisville was all for naught.
We've been here before, Norton said, and it seems that the momentum to do the things that the Visioneering group learns on each visit disappears once leaders return to their daily lives.
"When we get back, what are we going to do? How are we going to do it? Who is going to lead it?" Norton said to the group of 50 business, academic, civic and government leaders.
But Wichita Downtown Development Corp. CEO Jeff Fluhr, and others, said they think that this time is different.
For one, there is a downtown master plan, which wasn't the case in the four prior city-to-city visits: Richmond, Va.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Oklahoma City and Fort Worth; and Chattanooga, Tenn.
"Forty-six private companies are invested in this (downtown revitalization effort and plan)," Fluhr said. "This is the first time there is more private money in the planning process than public. I think we've opened the door; we just need to swing it wide open.
"We raised $100,000 in just two months. That gives you an indication of a golden opportunity."
Still, leaders such as banker Gary Schmitt and Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce CEO Bryan Derreberry would like to see some regular but informal gathering of city, county, downtown development and chamber officials to help shepherd along implementation of the plan.
"We just need some collaboration and coordination so we sing out of the same hymnal," said Schmitt, executive vice president of Intrust Bank.
And along the way, officials involved in downtown revitalization will have to keep talking about the progress of the master plan and the process, because a lot of time could go by in which it appears nothing is being done.
"It's a plan that takes time," said Jon Rolph, Visioneering Wichita chairman and executive vice president of Carlos O'Kelly's. "I think we need to remember it's a marathon."
Old Town developer David Burk reminded the group that the transformation of Wichita's warehouse district took decades.
"Old Town took over 20 years, and we're not done yet," Burk said.
Some in the group also reminded others that when it comes to discussing Wichita's downtown and economic development that the broader metropolitan area needs to be included.
"It needs to be a regional effort," said Kori Gregg, special assistant to the president of Butler Community College. "Every time we go on these trips (the efforts of the cities Visioneering exams) are very regional focused. I think we need to build that synergy out amongst the outlying areas."
The group's first presentation of the day was from the developer of nearly 4,000 new acres of parkland on the edge of Jefferson County.
Dan Jones, chairman and CEO of 21st Century Parks, said the project has a capital budget of $113 million, $103 million of which his non-profit group has raised. He said $60 million of the total will come from private sources.
He told the Wichita group that the parkland is a key part of the area's economic development and that parks are one of the points in corporate relocation discussions.
"At the end of the day this is all about making Louisville a great place to live and work," he said.
The final presentation was from David Karem, president and CEO of the Louisville Waterfront Development Corp., the organization responsible for developing and maintaining a $115 million, 85-acre park along the Louisville bank of the Ohio River.
Previously the area had been home to several scrap metal yards, a sand and gravel company, an asphalt terminal and a concrete plant.
"We have really stripped out everything that was there and started off with a blank slate," he said.
The park, the planning of which started in the 1980s, is 90 percent complete, Karem said.
Of the total amount of the cost, $40 million was raised through private donations, with the rest coming from state and federal funds.
Karem told the Visioneering group that with such a long-term project with public money involved, it was important to keep the public convinced that the project would reach completion.
One of the ways the development group accomplished that was by holding groundbreaking and ribbon-cutting ceremonies for each portion of the park project that was started and completed.
"It created a sense of believability," Karem said.