The Wichita Riverfest’s new leader spent his career making cities more livable

The Wichita Riverfest has a new captain.

Ty Tabing, a Wichita native whose career has been focused on economic development and city revitalization projects, is taking over as President and CEO of Wichita Festivals Inc. effective Nov. 20. He’s replacing Mary Beth Jarvis, who led the organization from 2012 until Aug. 15 and now works as the executive director of the e2e Pilot Accelerator, a nonprofit formed to foster business startups.

Tabing, 52, is a graduate of Wichita North High School and Wichita State University. When he was done with school, he said in an interview on Wednesday, “my first priority was to get the heck out of Wichita, and I never thought I’d move back.”

Eventually, though, he realized that he liked his hometown, where his parents still live, and he liked the direction it was headed. He moved back in 2017 and since then has spearheaded several high-profile art and infrastructure projects.

“Wichita was really experiencing a renaissance, and given my background, I thought I could make a contribution,” he said.

So far, Tabing has led, for example, a big “place making” project at Wichita State University that resulted in a garden of artistic chicken wire and bamboo “wulips,” painted electrical boxes around campus and the installation of a giant pod structure called Love Locks Pod.

He also was behind the stacked shipping containers, now dubbed the Legacy Lounge, that recently appeared on the plaza in front of Century II with the purpose of providing Wichitans a place to share their thoughts on how the Arkansas River’s east bank should be developed.

Ty Tabing, left, helped lead the 2017 project that resulted in a DNA-shaped sculpture floating on the Arkansas River.

And the ArkArt project, which resulted in a 150-foot-long, DNA-shaped floating sculpture on the Arkansas River back in 2017 — that was a Tabing-led initiative, too.

Tabing said he grew up going to the Wichita Riverfest in the 1970s and has vivid memories of his father competing in the tug-of-war on the sandbar at Sim Park. He won’t know for sure what changes he’d like to make to the event until he starts the job and is able to “poke around under the hood,” he said.

One idea he has, he said, is to try to make the festival more “uniquely Wichita,” focusing on food and events and programming.

He also is aware, he said, that no matter what happens in the debate about what to do with Century II and the river’s east bank, where the festival is traditionally staged, the event will soon be in need of a new home.

“I will advocate for the festival and make sure we have a great space for the event in the future,” he said.

The annual Wichita Riverfest, staged each summer in downtown Wichita, has a new leader. File photo The Wichita Eagle

Tabing, who has a master’s degree in public policy from the University of Chicago, also serves as a commissioner on the Wichita Board of Park Commissioners. His resume also includes stints at the Chicago Department of Planning and Development and a two-year job in Singapore, where he led a public-private partnership designed to enhance the Singapore River.

Next year’s Wichita Riverfest is scheduled for May 29-June 6.

Denise Neil has covered restaurants and entertainment since 1997. Her Dining with Denise Facebook page is the go-to place for diners to get information about local restaurants. She’s a regular judge at local food competitions and speaks to groups all over Wichita about dining.