Century II, at least in its current configuration, is not the downtown centerpiece of the future.
That’s the conclusion of an independent citizen committee tasked with studying the issue.
The question now, according to the committee: Do a majority of Wichitans feel that same way?
City leaders have been seriously talking about either majorly renovating Century II or demolishing it to construct a new building for the past eight years.
Last year, the city received its latest study on Century II, prepared by San Francisco-based Arup Advisory Inc. It estimated costs of a major remodel at $272 million and a total rebuild at $492 million.
City Manager Robert Layton at the time recommended Century II be renovated rather than demolished.
But the Century II Citizens Advisory Committee is not going that far yet.
It has been doing fact-finding on Century II behind closed doors for the past seven months, opening its meeting to the media for the first time on Friday.
It has concluded either renovating or building a new center is a community need, and that doing nothing will hurt Wichita’s future — but will the conclusions of this group of local leaders match the conclusions of nearly 400,000 Wichitans?
“It’s dumb to get all wrapped around the axle with blue roof/no blue roof, keep it/save it discussions if, no matter what solution is proposed, 80 percent of the community is like, ‘It’s not that important,’ ” said Mary Beth Jarvis, chairwoman of the committee. “Frankly, we are wed to there being a solution more than we’re wed to renovate-versus-build new.
“We want people to be able to speak on the options — they just haven’t gotten very good apples-to-apples options yet, and that will happen.”
The committee, which is not affiliated with city government, was formed in February at Mayor Jeff Longwell’s request.
Its immediate plans include continuing to gauge the public’s appetite for a major project, with details on each proposal as specific as possible. It plans to partner with Project Wichita to help accomplish those ends.
Jarvis said the committee plans to have its final recommendation by autumn’s end.
What exactly is wrong with Century II?
Many of the issues with Century II are not readily apparent to event attendees — though they are glaringly obvious to tenants of the building.
A few of the issues:
- Its round design isn’t compatible with modern convention standards.
- The halls are not sound-proof, which causes issues when multiple events are scheduled at the same time.
- The amount of bathrooms is inadequate for a facility of its size.
- Its stages cannot accommodate modern theatrical design elements, and contemporary touring Broadway shows sometimes have to pass on Wichita because Century II is inadequate. The spiral loading dock for semitrucks also cannot accommodate modern-day semitrucks, which are longer than they were in 1969.
- There is limited pre-function space both on the performing-arts side and the convention side — places to gather, mingle and perhaps shop/dine — an amenity that has become standard in venues across the country.
- Its concrete infrastructure suffers from the maintenance problems a nearly 50-year-old building presents. Its elevators have been known to break down, it occasionally has heating and air-conditioning issues and internet connections can be spotty.
At the committee meeting, members also brought up safety issues with the building: Music Theatre Wichita welders often work in unventilated basement hallways, and little major infrastructural work can be done in the building because of asbestos concerns.
Why should I care?
Say you’ve never been to Century II and don’t particularly care to.
Why should you care about what’s wrong with Century II?
Upgrading Century II or building new will have a ripple effect on the community and likely spur economic development, the committee concluded.
“The reality is, if you’re going to be a city of a certain stature that’s going to attract employers and people that want to live here, you’ve got to have public spaces of a certain caliber, and we’re not even close,” said Brian Heinrichs, chief financial officer at Intrust Bank.
Though the arts organizations that use Century II can survive in the building, they would likely thrive in a new facility — provided the rent doesn’t increase significantly, the committee concluded.
“Because of the high quality of the arts produced in this building, there is the perception that there is less wrong with it than there actually is,” said Tara Clary, director of marketing for High Touch Technologies. “The tenant organizations have been able to do extraordinary things in a building that they’re basically patching together as they go.”
Larry Weber, property manager of the Garvey Center, likened the Century II situation to the city’s future ballpark, set to replace Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.
“We couldn’t get a team to play in a substandard facility,” he said, referencing the city’s search for a major-league affiliated baseball team. “To move up, we had to create a facility the team will play in. If we want to have a level of performance, a level of professionalism, we have to spend to make the facility work.”
The Century II advisory committee’s main goal, judging from Friday’s meeting, is to ingrain in Wichitans’ minds that the future of Wichita itself is intertwined with the future of this 49-year-old building.
“I don’t think it’s useful to have a giant renovate-versus-new-build discussion until more folks realize that those are really the only two options,” Jarvis said. “The option of throw a couple million at it or the option of do nothing ... they just aren’t valid anymore.”
To view all the Century II studies to date, visit www.wichita.gov/Arts/Pages/CenturyII.aspx.
The Century II advisory committee is chaired by Jarvis. It also includes Heinrichs, Clary, Weber, musician Quinn Lake, performer Tom Frye, Century II’s Kaye Sears, the city’s John D’Angelo, retired attorney Karla Fazio, nephrologist Dennis Ross, Jennifer Rygg of Rygg Design, Fidelity Bank’s Aaron Bastian, Emprise Bank’s Matt Michaelis and Ebony Clemons-Ajibolade of Westar Energy.