A Washington Post travel writer recently wrote about Wichita and focused on the appeal of its downtown. The piece reinforced what people attending community meetings have been saying: Downtown defines a city's identity.
Yes, a great city is made up of many parts, but downtown reflects a city's heart.
In economic development, a decaying downtown is a red flag for companies looking to relocate. A community that has a vibrant downtown demonstrates that it has a plan for residents, businesses and those looking to relocate.
In Wichita, our citizens have come together to define that plan. I'd like to thank all involved, including staff from the City of Wichita, Visioneering Wichita and the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation who worked with others to plan numerous meetings. Residents have participated in an aggressive outreach effort to improve downtown with multiple public meetings across the Wichita area since November.
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The downtown team also held planning meetings with stakeholder organizations, including nonprofits, neighborhood groups, developers and businesses. We've learned that people see downtown as a hub for the community and as a central location for entertainment, cultural, economic and other activities.
A vibrant downtown is central for helping us maximize our opportunities for regional and economic growth, and a plan will help us fulfill goals.
Future public investments must be targeted to deliver strong returns from the resulting private-sector investment, as well as broader economic and quality of life benefits to the city and region. There are several principles in the downtown master plan to guide this targeting.
Downtown development often requires upfront development costs that can be hard to address with mechanisms such as special assessments that have typically funded suburban infrastructure. Some upfront costs to developing downtown include existing buildings to retrofit or tear down, historic areas, dealing with multiple owners, parking structures and remediation issues. This is a challenge to developers.
Adopting a clear process and clarifying predictability for developers who apply for public investment in downtown development will provide many benefits. Providing them a specific process with eligibility criteria that takes into account a developer's experience, expertise and financial capability can be combined with benefits the project has to the community as a whole. The process can be designed so that city staff, the developer and the public have a clear picture of how each project encourages private investment in downtown.
The plan also encourages the use of valuable public-sector investments in steps to serve as catalysts so they encourage and increase private-sector development. It's important that we unlock private-sector potential, and in multiple projects whenever possible, with each project building upon another.
For 10 months, residents have been responding to a call to help draft a plan that better connects existing destinations, to help strengthen links between the attractions noted by the travel writer. Now we need to build on what we've done to fulfill downtown's promise.
Our history shows we can do this. About 20 years ago, Larkspur restaurant opened in a former dry cleaner shop in Old Town. Other successes followed. What will be our successes 20 years from now?