Wichita’s 2-year-old Project Downtown has faced obstacles ranging from the historic global recession to the vocal activists who forced February’s vote overturning one public incentive on one project. But with more than $60 million worth of work complete and another $114 million in the works, downtown revitalization cannot be denied.
This week’s updates for the Wichita City Council and Eagle editorial board connected the dots on all the impressive activity across the core, including the more than 140 residential units under construction and the Kansas Health Foundation’s plans to put the first all-new building on Douglas since the former Bank IV went in 38 years ago.
The ongoing developments include such noncommercial assets as the new Central Family YMCA, the $16 million renovation of St. Mary’s Cathedral and the new Open Door center to help the homeless.
One key catalyst is the Douglas block between Broadway and Topeka, where work on the 117-room Ambassador Hotel is progressing, the city’s 300-stall parking garage and public park are going in, the Kansas Health Foundation plans its $9 million expansion to house the Kansas Leadership Center, and the old Henry’s store finally is slated for redevelopment into a mix of commercial, restaurant and retail space.
Then there are the developments unseen from the street. Twelve local banks have come together as the downtown loan consortium to make $8 million in assets available to downtown projects to diversify risk – a strong show of support that’s even more impressive because, for all the activity, there hasn’t been a need to tap the money yet. Then there is the Design and Innovation Center, which Wichita Downtown Development Corp. president Jeff Fluhr likens to a “community war room” already used by more than 40 organizations and 1,500 individuals.
The Kansas Legislature helped, too, by overruling Gov. Sam Brownback’s initial plan to end state historic tax credits. That tool was essential to the renovation of the Drury Plaza Hotel Broadview, and 20 other projects are considering using such tax credits to help bring other old buildings back to life.
Mayor Carl Brewer called it all “wonderful news.”
And more should be coming, if hopes are realized for some sort of retail reinvention of Union Station and the City Council proceeds with a new Central Library near Exploration Place.
The community also can look forward to seeing the Orpheum Theatre’s restoration gain strength from the recent $1 million donation from the Willard and Jean Garvey Trust.
People should head downtown and check out the progress, perhaps at today’s Final Friday gallery crawl, the Wichita River Festival June 1-9, as Music Theatre of Wichita opens its season with “Fiddler on the Roof” June 13-17, or by taking advantage of the shops and restaurants in Old Town or the concerts coming to Intrust Bank Arena.
Wichita’s heart is beating again, and it’s only going to get stronger.
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman