A new era of greatness for Wichita

02/24/2012 12:00 AM

02/24/2012 9:42 AM

The new year offers excitement and opportunities for our community. We’ve worked together to weather the economic downturn of the last few years, and we are turning the corner toward a promising future. There are still economic uncertainties, but unemployment is down in Wichita and we’re committed to maintaining our status as the Air Capital of the World while continuing to diversify our economy. I sense that 2012 is the dawn of a new era of Wichita greatness.

Let’s start with affordable airfares, which we now know are essential to Wichita’s economic health. In 2012, we will welcome Southwest Airlines to Wichita, adding a great brand to our stable of discount carriers. Also, construction will start on our new airport terminal and garage project — a job creator and attractive facility that will give visitors an excellent early impression of our city. With a committed discount carrier like Southwest, the beginnings of a modern terminal and continued support for the Affordable Airfares program, air travel should continue to improve for area residents.

This year will mark the beginning of a five-year plan to dramatically improve transportation for residents. A new west-side floodway crossing is under design, and construction should begin in 2012. This bridge will dramatically improve commute times and convenient travel for thousands of Wichitans. The year also marks the beginning of collaborative efforts with Sedgwick County and the state of Kansas to continue improving the Kellogg freeway. These government partners are also working together to mark the beginning of a five-year process to improve the I-235 interchange and to complete Kellogg to K-96 on the city’s eastern edge.

I remain thrilled about the promise of downtown. We are rapidly and collaboratively developing the critical mass necessary to transform our downtown. We are engaging citizens. We are listening. We are working together. This City Council is working for you. We will continue to pursue policies that encourage private investment downtown while providing infrastructure investment. In the last two years, public-private partnerships have added the Drury-Broadview Hotel, the Cargill Innovation Center, Fairfield Inn and Suites and a number of other improvements. There is more to come in 2012 and beyond, and we’ll continue to explore and pursue riverfront improvements.

Construction will move forward on the Heartland Readiness Center in north Wichita. This center will eventually provide a new home for law enforcement training efforts, and will consolidate National Guard locations from across the community.

This year will present additional opportunities to streamline city government and maintain a low and stable property tax rate, one that hasn’t increased for 18 years. The city provides many important services daily for citizens. It’s important that we continue to provide those services as efficiently as possible. We are not like many other communities forced to lay off droves of city employees, including police and fire employees. However, we will work to ensure that every city employee and every tax dollar collected is used to provide meaningful services in cost-effective ways.

One thing that makes our community great is citizen interest and engagement. We will intensify those efforts in 2012. We are seeking community input on transit solutions for years to come. We will continue to explore ways to use technology, including social media, to engage citizens. Later this year, we will invite citizens to participate in a discussion on how to adapt to the anticipated loss of federal funds for improvement programs such as community development block grants and community services block grants.

Finally, we will not shy away from big issues. We will continue to pursue efforts to help our citizens in need, whether they are aged, homeless or in poverty. We will continue efforts to coordinate and consolidate services with Sedgwick County to lower costs for citizens.

I hope you’re as excited as I am about 2012. Other projects that excite me are the Douglas Block Redevelopment Project, anchored by the Ambassador Hotel and the new Kansas Leadership Center, and the St. Francis Corridor Project, which will provide public parking for Old Town and Intrust Bank Arena.

Wichita is a vibrant and desirable community. Earlier this month, Wichita was one of 10 cities highlighted on a “Today” show report as a place with a promising housing market and excellent quality of life – and that recognition came before the council approved a partnership with area homebuilders to build 1,000 new homes, providing financial incentives for the new home buyers.

Wichita, our future is bright. It’s up to us to fulfill our promise. Stay tuned, stay engaged, and let’s keep working together.

Reach Carl Brewer at 316-268-4331 or cbrewer@wichita.gov.

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