Carrie Rengers

Have an idea to activate the Arkansas River? Let the city know by Friday

Lots of people say they wish Wichita would utilize the Arkansas River better, and the city agrees.

“We’ve been wanting to activate the river,” says Troy Houtman, director of the Park and Recreation Department.

The question, he says, is, “What kind of things could we do?”

That might be some sort of barge service with a floating restaurant or bar, a dinner cruise, a water taxi or a tourist ride with fun facts about the city from downtown to Delano. Houtman says the city is open to ideas, so it put out a request for qualifications several months ago.

Only one person responded, and Houtman says he doesn’t remember who that was but does remember that person wanted the city to dredge the river, which he says would take hundreds of millions of dollars and is not going to happen.

“Whatever we put into the water has to navigate at its current condition,” he says. “Our river is a little bit difficult because it’s so shallow.”

Houtman says the next step was to cast a wider net with a national scope.

He says his department asked Visit Wichita for help contacting vendors nationally.

“We tried to post it in some other industry websites and those types of things.”

He doesn’t know if anyone was contacted locally.

“I’m not sure if we targeted any specific restaurants or restaurant folks.”

For now, Houtman says the city is “just sparking some ideas.”

“We’re very much just in the idea-generating scope of things,” he says. “First of all, we need to get somebody who might be interested in doing this.”

A new request for proposals has been out for a couple of weeks. Houtman says the city didn’t request parameters on what ideas might be.

“We wanted to kind of keep it wide open,” he says.

Houtman says the city wants raw, unfiltered proposals to “just see what happens.”

“Unless we try (to) explore the idea, we’ll never know for sure.”

The proposals are due by 3 p.m. Friday.

Only one person came to a pre-proposal meeting. Houtman says it was someone who had an idea for a start-up business.

“Hopefully, we’ll get several bidders.”

Until the bids close, he says he can’t disclose how many there have been or if there have been any at all.

“We can always do it again or we can always extend it.”

Houtman says he thinks there are a lot of cool things happening in Wichita right now and more cool ideas coming forward. He says a new river proposal could be one more.

“If it doesn’t work, we will look at the next great idea.”