Everybody seems to have an opinion about how well the 5-year-old Intrust Bank Arena is living up to community expectations for big acts and diversity. And everybody is right – except those who still think Sedgwick County voters went wrong in 2004 in approving the sales tax that paid for the $200 million, 15,000-seat downtown venue.
In just the past week the arena drew 9,520 fans for country star Eric Church, attracted 9,800 for Trans-Siberian Orchestra (back for a fifth year) and sold out for the Wichita State University men’s basketball win over Saint Louis. It was the Shockers’ fifth game at what’s become their second home.
And bookings announced for 2015 have confirmed the arena’s status as a go-to venue for country stars while branching out a bit. It appears that Garth Brooks is coming. So are Jason Aldean (April 9, for a third time) and Miranda Lambert (March 7, for a second time). But so are Bob Seger (Feb. 17) and Fleetwood Mac (March 31). And the Foo Fighters (Sept. 30), including Intrust among only 12 arenas on their 29-city tour next year.
Last month the arena made good on a hope that had been part of its foundation, being chosen for the first and second rounds of the 2018 NCAA men’s basketball tournament. To its further credit, it now hosts not only Wichita Thunder hockey but also Wichita Force indoor football.
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Yet the grumbling continues, understandably. Pop and hip-hop stars are still passing by Wichita in favor of other, bigger cities in the region such as Tulsa, Oklahoma City and Kansas City, Mo., and – even more maddeningly – smaller communities in some cases.
And the explanations offered aren’t very satisfying. Wichita lacks the population, demographics, concert track record, radio stations and music downloads – and Intrust lacks the capacity – to justify bookings by the biggest acts, say county leaders and officials with SMG, the Philadelphia-based management firm that operates the arena. They add that the market hurt its reputation among promoters with underwhelming sales for past shows (John Mayer at Intrust in 2013 and T.I. and Akon at the Kansas Coliseum in 2008, for two).
Such explanations, while surely true, come across as excuses meant to lower expectations not only for the arena but for Wichita – a less-than-productive message for a community with long-standing self-esteem issues and a pressing need to attract and keep young professionals who can help it chart a new economic future.
Still, if Intrust Bank Arena hasn’t brought every desired act to Wichita, it’s shown locals and out-of-towners some really great times while safeguarding taxpayers from box office losses via a novel contractual arrangement. It deserves more credit than it’s been getting on both counts, though that won’t and shouldn’t stop residents from asking for more.
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman