Center a resource for downtown projects

Downtown redevelopment officials will trot out their new Innovation Center during an open house this afternoon.

The center, located just west of the Wichita Downtown Development Corp. offices at 507 E. Douglas, will be the first contact point between prospective downtown developers and city officials.

"This is the place where we hope developers come first when they have an idea about something downtown," said Scott Knebel, the city's downtown revitalization manager.

"So we can bring all the resources we have together. This will be one place for them to involve the idea, all the way from conception of the idea to construction of the project."

The 1,400-square-foot space includes an office for Jason Gregory, the WDDC's executive vice president.

It's equipped with multi-media technology, including a Smart Board for interactive written communication, video conferencing and big screens.

There, developers and city officials will hash out the viability of proposed downtown residential, retail and entertainment projects, including potential public-private partnerships.

Today's grand opening ceremony will include representatives from the financial partners in the center: the Wichita Community Foundation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Wichita Vice Mayor Lavonta Williams and Tom Docking, vice chairman of the WDDC, will speak about the center, which is modeled after the CreateHere resources center in Chattanooga, Tenn.

"What we have now are the resources for the development community to implement development strategies," said Jeff Fluhr, president of the WDDC.

"We have the technology now to bring in the economists working on the project, the Goody Clancy consultants. With this technology, we can work through projects early, talk about the design with teams regardless of where they are in the country to provide invaluable insight and input to maximize the design's potential and profitability."

Fluhr also touts the center as a museum of sorts to development activity downtown.

"We've been talking about the walkability of downtown," he said. "We're activating a storefront that's previously been vacant.

"People will be able to look in and see conversations, a group of individuals meeting, all the information about the projects on the walls. It's a visual display to the street of the activity downtown."