Century II or something new? Group seeks answers to Wichita’s riverfront questions

A coalition of Wichita boosters working to shape the future of the city’s riverfront has announced its first — tentative — public meeting date.

The group says it wants to put the community’s vision for the future of the east bank of the Arkansas River downtown on paper as the Riverfront Legacy Master Plan. A primary focus will be connecting the east bank with the ballpark development on the west bank, downtown and development to the north to the Keeper of the Plains.

It’s inviting members of the public to attend a meeting, scheduled tentatively for July 31. It plans other meetings to collect ideas.

“Because the sensitivity of this area, because so much of it is public land, we really believe the public needs to go along the entire journey and hear all of the discussions,” said Jon Rolph, co-chair of the Greater Wichita Partnership.

The plan is expected to build on previous studies related to downtown and the Arkansas River corridor. It could help determine the future of Century II, a city-owned performing arts and convention center that the city has been weighing what to do with for over a decade.

The group’s work comes on the heels of the Century II Citizens Advisory Committee’s study of the area. That group declined to make a recommendation on Century II’s future, instead saying Wichita should focus its resources on building a $175 million performing arts center nearby.

The Riverfront Legacy Master Plan would be big-picture planning for the area, like what kinds of development should go where, parking and “walkability,” or how inviting an area is to foot traffic.

It’s expected to be a long-range plan for the area on the east bank of the Arkansas River to Main Street from Douglas to Kellogg. That area includes Century II Performing Arts and Convention Center, the WaterWalk, Hyatt Hotel, the former Gander Mountain building, the city library and other structures, many owned or leased by the city.

The coalition includes Downtown Wichita, Greater Wichita Partnership, Visit Wichita, Wichita Community Foundation and the Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce.

It plans a budget of $700,000, with about $490,000 of that from the private sector.

It also plans to seek some public funding for the plan and eventually will ask city and county government to adopt the final plan next year.

“The county and the city managers have been part of the coalition discussions,” said Vera Bothner, whose firm Bothner and Bradley Inc. has been tapped to lead public relations for the group. “So I don’t think anybody is going to be surprised, but that’s going to be two more public discussions about what does this look like and what do we get to.”

“Transparency is important,” Bothner said.

The group has negotiated a possible contract with a Populous Architecture, a company the city chose in 2014 to help work on concepts and site planning for a convention center and performing arts complex, and its subcontractors.

“The decision to work with Populous was based on its expertise with large scale urban design projects, its ability to hit the ground running because of previous studies and work related to Century II and performing arts complex in Wichita,” Susie Santo, president and CEO of Visit Wichita said, according to a news release Tuesday.

RCLCO Real Estate Advisors will provide a market-driven plan and Olin Studio will develop “scenario designs” based on recommendations from previous plans and input from the public, according to the release.

“The market-driven component of this is important,” Bothner said. “It [looks at] what is actually doable versus what sounds great but is kind of pie in the sky.”

Rolph, who is also president and CEO of SASNAK Management, said the plan should represent “the will of the community.”

“We don’t want to go out there and put out something that’s so far out there that no one wants to do it,” he said. “We don’t want to do something that’s so safe or held back that it’s uninspiring either.

“We’re looking at this as a once-in-a-generation opportunity. You just don’t get to redevelop riverfront development hardly ever,” he said.

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Chance Swaim won the Betty Gage Holland Award in 2018 for distinguished service to honor and protect the integrity of public dialogue on America’s college campuses. He has been a news reporter for The Wichita Eagle since 2018. You can contact him at 316-269-6752 and cswaim@wichitaeagle.com.