Elections to elephants: What to look forward to in 2016

When the Summer Olympics kick off in Rio de Janeiro in August, Kansans could have some hometown athletes to cheer for.
When the Summer Olympics kick off in Rio de Janeiro in August, Kansans could have some hometown athletes to cheer for. File photo

In 2016, we’ll vote for a new president, cheer Olympic athletes, welcome a new police chief, open a new high school and say hello to new elephants at the zoo.

And that’s just the beginning.

Wichitans have plenty of notable events to look forward to in the coming year. Here are some of them:

▪ The news in 2016 will be dominated by presidential politics, as candidates from both parties look toward their conventions this summer – the Republican National Convention kicks off July 18 in Cleveland, and the Democratic National Convention a week later in Philadelphia.

Here in Kansas, every seat in the state Legislature will be up for re-election in November, as well as two seats – Tim Norton’s and Karl Peterjohn’s – on the Sedgwick County Commission.

The primary election will be held Tuesday, Aug. 2, and the general election on Tuesday, Nov. 8.

▪ Elephants of the Zambezi River Valley will be the third-largest elephant exhibit in the United States – and the first to feature boat rides – when it opens Memorial Day weekend at the Sedgwick County Zoo.

The $10.6 million exhibit will feature two yards for people to see Stephanie and the six African elephants that will join her. It also will have two off-exhibit yards, an almost 3,000-square-foot viewing area, a concessions building and a shaded amphitheater.

Tanganyika Wildlife Park near Goddard also plans to expand in 2016, with a new building to enclose the park’s African penguins. The park also will add a stingray touch tank, an otter exhibit and a children’s splash park.

▪ Wichita’s new police chief, Gordon Ramsay, will take his post Jan. 28. Ramsay, currently the chief of police in Duluth, Minn., was heralded by city leaders, police union officials and community groups as a solid choice for police chief when City Manager Robert Layton announced in December that he had accepted the job.

▪ A new Southeast High School, near 127th Street East and Pawnee, is scheduled to welcome its first students in August. The school, now estimated to cost about $68 million, will be the first new Class 6A high school to open in the district since Northwest High School in 1978.

There still are several unanswered questions about the new Southeast, including how much more the Wichita district will spend to bus students to the school. The district plans to consolidate many of its downtown offices at the current Southeast High, 903 S. Edgemoor, and lease part of the building to Wichita Area Technical College, but it’s unclear when that would happen.

▪ When the Summer Olympics kick off in Rio de Janeiro in August, Kansans could have some hometown athletes to cheer for.

Boxer Nico Hernandez, who attended Wichita North High School, won the U.S. Olympic trials light flyweight division last month in Reno, Nev. He still has to qualify for the Olympics but has three international competitions coming up to try to get there.

And Michael Andrew, a 16-year-old professional swimmer who lives just outside Lawrence, already has qualified for the Olympic trials in Omaha this summer and is looking toward the pools in Rio.

The Olympics run Aug. 5 to 21.

▪ In sports closer to home, Wichita State University men’s basketball fans can look forward – or not – to Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker and Evan Wessel’s last home game at Koch Arena on Feb. 27.

Baseball fans who savored the Kansas City Royals’ World Series championship run in 2015 should mark their calendars for April 3: the team’s opening day game against the New York Mets at Kauffman Stadium.

▪ Wichita residents looking to cool off this summer will be able to enjoy a new interactive splash park in Buffalo Park, near Central and Maize. The $1 million park based on prairie themes, with sculptures and plants to represent native grasses, will be the first splash park on the city’s west side.

▪ The Wichita group restoring a B-29 Superfortress bomber known as “Doc” hopes to get the bomber back in the air in 2016. The group, Doc’s Friends, surpassed its $137,500 Kickstarter fundraising campaign goal in October.

In other aviation news, Textron Aviation expects the first flight of its new Cessna Citation Longitude business jet in 2016. The jet will be manufactured on a new production line to be built at the company’s East Campus, formerly known as the Beechcraft plant.

And Spirit AeroSystems is expected in 2016 to increase its monthly production rate on manufacturing parts, including the forward fuselage of the Boeing 787, from 10 airplanes a month to 12.

▪ Construction on Union Station, one of downtown Wichita’s largest redevelopment projects, is expected to continue through 2016. Developers say the nearly 10-acre site near Douglas and Rock Island is on schedule, with the majority of the project expected to be complete in 2017.

In August, a seven-story, 80,000-square-foot office building going up at the Waterfront, at 13th and Webb, is expected to welcome its first tenant, Wichita-based Hinkle Law Firm.

Also this year, a Texas developer expects to break ground on a 300,000-square-foot outlet center on the northwest corner of 53rd North and I-135 in Park City.

▪ Will 2016 be a great year for entrepreneurs in Wichita? Next week, local businessmen Gary Oborny and Scott Schwindaman, who lead the Entrepreneurship Task Force, will unveil details of their plan to revive entrepreneurism in the Wichita region.

The plan includes a nonprofit incubator/accelerator downtown, whose CEO will be announced this month, as well as private seed funding for early stage companies, startup events, networking get-togethers, mentoring and information-sharing meet-ups.

▪ Craft beer lovers can look forward to hoisting a greater variety of local brews in 2016, as at least two more microbreweries are expected to open.

Third Place Brewing will debut in a 1,500-square-foot space under renovation at 630 E. Douglas, just west of the railroad overpass in downtown. And Aero Plains Brewing – envisioned by founder Lance Minor as a tasting room attached to the city’s largest production and packaging brewery – is likely to open downtown in the coming year.

And Bubba’s 33, a pizza, burgers and beer restaurant named for the 33-degree beer it serves, is expected to open near Towne East Square this spring.

▪ Kansas will mark a few notable anniversaries in 2016, including the 50th anniversary of the publication of “In Cold Blood,” Truman Capote’s book about the 1959 murders of the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kan.; and the 50th anniversary of Jim Ryun’s world records in the mile and half-mile.

▪ In entertainment news, legendary crooner Barry Manilow will bring his “One Last Time” tour to Intrust Bank Arena in February. Other highlights on the year’s entertainment agenda include appearances by Brad Paisley, Fall Out Boy, TobyMac, Journey and the Doobie Brothers at Intrust; Arlo Guthrie, Lyle Lovett & Robert Earl Keen, and The Steel Wheels at the Wichita Orpheum; and blues artist Keb’ Mo’, the Glenn Miller Orchestra and Gordon Lightfoot at Salina’s Stiefel Theatre.

Music Theatre of Wichita’s 2016 season will feature “Nice Work if You Can Get It,” Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma,” “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Mamma Mia.” Theater League of Wichita will bring “The Producers,” “Flashdance: The Musical,” Sandy Hackett’s “Rat Pack Show” and, in April, a special engagement of Blue Man Group.

At movie theaters, hot tickets will include “Zoolander 2,” “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” “Captain America: Civil War,” “X-Men: Apocalypse,” “Warcraft,” “Independence Day: Resurgence,” “The BFG,” “Finding Dory,” “The Legend of Tarzan,” “Ghostbusters,” “Star Trek Beyond,” “Bourne 5,” “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” and “Assassin’s Creed.”

Television viewers can look forward to the sixth and final season of PBS’s “Downton Abbey;” “Vinyl,” a new HBO drama by “Boardwalk Empire” creator Terence Winter; “The X-Files” on Fox; “Billions,” a Showtime series starring Damian Lewis and Paul Giamatti; Stephen King’s “11.22.63” on Hulu; and the much-hyped “Full House” reboot, “Fuller House,” on Netflix.

▪ Having a baby in 2016? If the birth happens after Feb. 8, the start of the lunar new year, your child will be born in the Year of the Monkey. According to the Chinese zodiac, monkey people are thought to be clever, intelligent, lively, quick-witted and versatile. They have some shortcomings, though, such as their tendency to be jealous, selfish and a bit arrogant.

Suzanne Perez Tobias: 316-268-6567, @suzannetobias