Wichita took two steps forward last week toward improving key entertainment and cultural facilities. Such improvements are important to the region’s quality of life and its ability to attract employees, visitors and conventions.
Tuesday, the Wichita City Council hired a consultant to look at ways to replace or renovate Century II. The iconic facility has served Wichita well for nearly 50 years, but it is showing its age.
Some of Century II’s problems include not enough rehearsal space, lobby areas that are too small, a loading deck not big enough to accommodate large semi-trucks, and aging infrastructure, including elevators and heating and air-conditioning systems that break down. Also, the convention area is too small, and it is difficult to hold multiple events at the same time – both because of space and because the walls aren’t sound-proof.
The consultant will explore the possibility of giving a developer control of the city-owned land around Century II as a way to help offset renovation costs. That has many citizens concerned – so council members need to proceed cautiously and skeptically.
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The city also needs to preserve Century II’s theater resources, including its behind-the-scenes shops that are essential to staging productions. Tenants such as Music Theatre of Wichita are important not only to the city’s culture but also are draws for visitors.
But major improvements are needed.
The other big step was when the Sedgwick County Commission approved Wednesday a special taxing district to pay for improvements along the riverfront, including a renovated or redone Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. The City Council approved the taxing district the previous week.
Like Century II, Lawrence-Dumont has been a great facility. And though it has been renovated several times in the past 82 years, it needs major work to provide the amenities fans and teams expect in modern stadiums, including luxury suites, upgraded locker rooms and areas for off-the-field entertainment and attractions.
A new stadium likely would cost $40 million to $50 million. The city wants to borrow money for the stadium and pay off the debt with taxes generated in the district.
Though there is no guarantee, a new stadium might help Wichita attract a team affiliated with Major League Baseball. But it, the Century II project and other improvements also are important to attracting and retaining younger people and employees.
As Commissioner Micheal O’Donnell said about Lawrence-Dumont, “Having a project like this is great for the future of Wichita. It’s necessary.”