What would you like to see change with Wichita’s parks in the next decade?
What do you think should be done to further develop the east and west banks of the Arkansas River?
What could Wichita do to attract more jobs?
Those are among the questions that are likely to be asked in a regional community visioning initiative unveiled at the annual chamber chairman’s lunch on Thursday at Intrust Bank Arena.
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Project Wichita is aimed at hearing from as many residents of Wichita and surrounding communities as possible about their vision is for the region. It will gather that information through town hall forums, small group meetings, community-wide surveys and social media.
From that input it will identify and prioritize projects and initiatives for what officials called an “action plan” to be implemented over 10 years.
“The whole goal of this is to go broad and deep,” said Aaron Bastian, president of Fidelity Bank and one of four co-chairs of Project Wichita. “This is finding our priorities together as a community.”
The other co-chairs are Deborah Gann, Spirit AeroSystems vice president of communications and public affairs; Scott Schwindaman, president and CEO of Lubrication Engineers; and Juston White, executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of South Central Kansas.
Project Wichita isn’t something driven by the chamber or local government, officials said. Rather it’s a coalition of business and community leaders from large and small companies who say they want to capitalize on what’s happening in Wichita right now, such as a renewed sense of community pride, investment in downtown buildings and plans by companies like Spirit AeroSystems to hire 1,000 new workers.
“Now is the best time to start,” Ben Hutton, president of Hutton Construction, said in a panel discussion at the lunch. “We have so much momentum right now as a community … I think Wichita as a whole is hungry for what’s next and a bigger vision.”
Three-quarters of Project Wichita’s $300,000 funding commitment has come from private companies and nonprofit organizations, Bastian said.
“I’m so pleased we’ve gotten so many verbal commitments in such a short period of time,” Bastian said.
The money will be used to carry out Project Wichita’s efforts to gather public input in the visioning process. Wichita State University Public Policy and Management Center, as well as a volunteer steering council and citizens, will help with the information gathering process.
Officials said Project Wichita will begin the region-wide community listening process in March. They hope to develop a plan identifying projects and initiatives from the listening process by August.
The group has set up a website to provide information and updates on the initiative’s progress at www.projectwichita.org.
During Thursday’s panel discussion, Mayor Jeff Longwell also announced the formation of the Century II committee, which will be responsible for making a recommendation to the Wichita City Council on what to do with the city’s downtown performing arts and convention center based on input from the community and through Project Wichita.
The committee will be led by Mary Beth Jarvis, president and CEO of Wichita Festivals, and be made up of representatives from the Wichita Symphony, Music Theatre of Wichita, Wichita Grand Opera, and Mark Arts as well as Intrust, Emprise and Fidelity banks.
“This group is going to be tasked with helping the council make a decision that not only serves the needs of our community today, but will continue to serve the needs of our community in the future,” Longwell said.