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Wichita City Council to vote on downtown consultant

In a little more than a year, Wichita may have a new, 20-year blueprint for downtown revitalization.

City leaders and consultants say the plan will be based on input from residents. It's likely to call for taxpayers to continue investing money in the city's core, roughly bounded by Kellogg, Central, Seneca and Washington.

It may include a pitch for a vastly different transportation system, perhaps with bike paths, expanded sidewalks and new bus routes.

And it would lay the groundwork to draw more restaurants, businesses and residences to tie Old Town, Intrust Bank Arena and the Arkansas River corridor together.

City Council members will vote on a $500,000 contract Tuesday, which is poised to pass.

The vote would bring the Boston-based Goody Clancy firm to town, along with a consortium of other consultants. They would hold five public workshops to gather input and, later, ask people to reflect on their evolving plans.

Mayor Carl Brewer, who received firm backing from downtown developers in his 2007 campaign, has made downtown's rebirth the cornerstone of his first two years in office.

He said the emphasis has already spurred some to act, such as the First Friday downtown concerts promoted by ROK ICT.

Council member Sue Schlapp said having a plan will also lead to more involvement.

"I think it brings a whole new group of people to it," she said.

The plan will include in-depth market and demographic studies to show leaders what Goody Clancy thinks downtown can realistically support.

Hints of that exist in their preliminary documents. For example, the preliminary report says:

"Indeed, WaterWalk might be struggling to fill its space because it has, simply put, hit a ceiling: It is focusing on food and fun, and perhaps there is room for only one such district (Old Town) in Downtown Wichita. The Arena could help in this regard, but until the publicly subsidized WaterWalk is a rousing success, it might not make sense to split the pie still further."

And the planning promises to get into something called "psychographics," described as "a means of understanding submarkets" that could help steer the right kinds of development to the right places.

It uses Riverside for an example.

"It is associated, rightly or wrongly, with residents who live in old Victorian houses, are progressively minded, ride bicycles (rather than driving cars), support locally owned small businesses, and caffeinate at independent coffeehouses like Riverside Perk."

Schlapp said it will be up to community input to determine how ambitious the city will be in investing in downtown.

She said it's an exciting step, and one the city needs to take.

"If you're not growing, you're dying," she said.

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