Wichita arts leaders are correct in wanting more study and more say on the future of Century II. The arts community needs to be a full partner in this debate, not an afterthought.
The leaders of the Wichita Symphony, Music Theatre of Wichita and Wichita Grand Opera are concerned that most of the discussion about whether to renovate or bulldoze Century II has focused on the city’s convention business.
“The plans that have been put forward are all based on a future for conventions that is conjecture, but the future of arts is based on accommodating what has already taken place here,” said Wayne Bryan, MTW’s producing artistic director.
A consultant’s report released last month said that Wichita could significantly increase its convention business if it built a state-of-the-art convention center and added 100 hotel rooms. One option is to tear down Century II and build a new convention center on site, with a new performing arts center either on site or elsewhere. The other option is to build a new convention center on part of the site and renovate Century II for the arts.
Though they are concerned about what they would do with all of Century II, the arts leaders aren’t necessarily opposed to these options. The idea of a new, better-designed performing arts center is certainly appealing.
But before making any big decisions, they want the same type of detailed study about the future of performing arts in Wichita as was done with convention business.
For example, what is the growth potential for the arts? If the city built a new arts center, what groups might use it? What are their needs?
“I can’t imagine so much action being contemplated before we ask what the performing arts needs,” Bryan said.
Susie Santo, president of Go Wichita, the city’s convention and visitors bureau, said that the arts are valued and will be a key part of the next two phases of the Century II study, which will consider design options and evaluate the costs and benefits of each option.
“The performing arts are extremely valuable to our community and their input is vitally important,” she said.
That is good to hear – and needs to be the case going forward.
Wichita arts organizations generate about $66 million a year in business and draw visitors to the city. Any effort to attract more potential convention business must not come at the expense of these proven performers.