What do you want to see in downtown Wichita? What do your children and grandchildren want? Or the employees we recruit to Wichita?
Empty buildings are one option. Our community has chosen another option. We want a vibrant downtown and redeveloped buildings.
The board of Wichita Downtown Development Corp. helped fund Project Downtown, the downtown master plan that took public input for months to find out what people wanted. We listened to area residents and combined that with experts in national trends and economics.
Together with the city of Wichita and a lot of local business leadership, we made sure processes are in place so that when we embark on a project, it’s well-funded by the private developers, provides a return on investment for any public dollars, and can be a catalyst for growth.
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On Tuesday we have an opportunity to vote “yes” to all of the above. This is why the Wichita Downtown Development Corp. board of directors endorses a “yes” vote.
First, it’s an economic development issue that represents construction and ongoing jobs. Beyond that, it takes a building that has sat empty for 12 years and creates an asset downtown that will generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in yearly tax revenue for the city, county and school district.
Second, it’s also already sparked additional development in that block with announcements by the Kansas Health Foundation to double its space for the Kansas Leadership Center statewide headquarters and other plans for renovating the former Henry’s building. All of these buildings and more will be served by the parking garage, which is all that’s funded by the current, previously allocated public money. Rarely does any city of any size have an entire city block developed by different entities, especially in a down real-estate market.
Third, in this case, the vote is about only one aspect of this project: the guest tax paid by those who stay at the hotel, who are primarily visitors. The out-of-town hotel developer and local business partners are putting millions of their own money into this project. We want to encourage more people to invest in downtown, helping old buildings come back to life and back on the tax rolls, while preserving their history and beauty.
Think about what our community would be like without our public-private partnerships and public funding for key improvements. They enrich our community through cultural entities such as Exploration Place and the Sedgwick County Zoo. They create new tourist and quality-of-life attractions such as Old Town. They paid for Intrust Bank Arena before it opened. All other communities, large and small, also invest in themselves, because they know that if a community chooses not to, it will begin to fade away.
We’ve heard time and again from other cities, market-research studies and stories from people that strong downtowns are a sign that a region is strong. Potential companies and residents like to see a community that invests in itself and in its downtown.
As a Wichitan, I’m excited about our prospects. Consider the downtown development activity and investment going on right now from businesses, nonprofits and the faith community. It is amazing what we can accomplish working together now and in the future.