Keeper of the Plans

Here’s what a new performing arts center in Wichita needs, theater professional says

Aerial view of Century II

A look at Century II from the air. While the city of Wichita grapples with what to do with the aging Century II – either renovate or scrap and start over, we take a drone flight over the 48-year-old building that opened in 1969. (Video By Bo Rader
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A look at Century II from the air. While the city of Wichita grapples with what to do with the aging Century II – either renovate or scrap and start over, we take a drone flight over the 48-year-old building that opened in 1969. (Video By Bo Rader

The city’s aging Century II Performing Arts & Convention Center is holding the city back.

That’s what studies conducted over the last few years have concluded, and city leaders are currently considering whether to take on the expensive project of building a replacement.

The Century II Citizens Advisory Committee last month recommended the city construct a new performing-arts center in downtown, a project that would likely cost more than $175 million. Downtown Wichita has since endorsed that recommendation.

That doesn’t necessarily mean Century II will be demolished.

Fisher Dachs Associates, one of the best-known theater-planning firms in the world, studied Century II in 2014.

The firm found that Century II is outdated both from a technical perspective and for patrons coming to see shows.

“It just isn’t what we would do today,” said Bob Campbell, associate principal of the firm.

As a consultant to the city, Campbell presented a proposed “building program” for a new performing-arts center in Wichita — essentially an outline of what a new center needs.

In his time with the firm, Campbell has overseen the design for 2,000-plus-seat auditoriums including the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, the Long Center in Austin, the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto, and a 2,400-seat theater at the Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami.

Here’s what would he recommended be included in a new Wichita performing arts center:

  • 2,200-seat multipurpose performance hall with standard-size stage, wings and backstage areas
  • 200-240-seat multipurpose events room for Symphony rehearsals, dinners and small performances
  • One large rehearsal space, two medium-sized rehearsal rooms and one small rehearsal space
  • Expanded lobby
  • Patrons-only lounge
  • Scene shop, paint shop, storage for costumes, props and other tools

“I think this is an opportunity,” Campbell said. “The folks of Wichita have the opportunity to get a touring show in there without having to drive to Kansas City or wherever else.”

It remains to be seen how a new performing arts center would be financed.

The City Council has yet to make a decision on the matter, though the Century II Citizens Advisory Committee has pushed for a decision to be made by the end of April.

Matt Riedl covers arts and entertainment news for the Wichita Eagle and has done so since 2015. He maintains the Keeper of the Plans blog on Facebook, dedicated to keeping Wichitans abreast of all things fun.

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