Politics & Government

City considers giving developers control of land around Century II

City officials have hired a consultant to explore options for a public-private partnership to replace or renovate Century II in downtown Wichita.
City officials have hired a consultant to explore options for a public-private partnership to replace or renovate Century II in downtown Wichita. The Wichita Eagle

Wichita has hired a consultant to explore possibilities for a public-private partnership to replace or renovate the Century II Convention and Performing Arts Center.

The city specifically wants to explore the possibility of giving a developer control of city-owned land around Century II and leveraging that into funding from the developer to help remodel or replace the nearly 50-year-old venue, Mayor Jeff Longwell and City Manager Robert Layton have said.

The City Council on Tuesday approved a $294,000 consulting contract with California-based Arup Advisory Inc. to explore alternatives to fund renovation or replacement and to look for more efficient ways to operate the center.

The vote came with little discussion by the council. But supporters of the performing arts spoke up on behalf of keeping the capabilities Wichita now has to stage a Broadway-quality show.

Wayne Bryan, artistic director of Music Theatre Wichita, asked the council to preserve the “unique nature” of Century II.

He said the venue is a rarity these days in that it has “all of the resources needed to create from scratch a full-scale, high-quality, Broadway-sized production.”

Those resources include a motorized paint frame, carpenter shop, costume shop, prop shop and rehearsal rooms.

Bryan said that sets Wichita apart from most communities, whose performance centers are “built as road-show places where the entertainment comes off trucks” and distant business owners reap the money from ticket sales.

“Music Theatre of Wichita lives here because of the unique qualities of Century II facility,” Bryan said. “They were built into the city’s one and only performing arts center when it was constructed in the late ’60s.”

The immediate intent is not to privatize the center itself, although that could become an option after Arup provides data on financial alternatives, Longwell said.

“It’s not off the table,” Longwell said. “Neither is it at the top of the list.”

The city owns about 30 acres of property around Century II that could be developed.

It stretches from north of the Drury Hotel to south of the Hyatt Regency Hotel.

That property includes the site of the current downtown library, which will be replaced by the $37 million advanced learning library under construction on the other side of the Arkansas River at the southwest corner of Second and McLean.

Allowing a developer to use land around Century II for restaurant, retail or other use could generate funding for the convention center project and minimize the amount the city would have to borrow and pay back, Longwell said.

Arup will analyze various financial scenarios to upgrade or replace Century II, which was built in 1969 and expanded in 1986.

The city has already identified four potential alternatives:

▪ Tear down Century II and replace it with a new convention and performing arts center at roughly the same site.

▪ Tear down Century II, build a new convention center at the site and a new performing arts center elsewhere.

▪ Renovate Century II to focus on either conventions or performances and move the other functions to a new building to be constructed.

▪ Renovate, but not expand, the current center.

Layton said the feedback he’s gotten has been about evenly split between those who want to renovate and keep the current Century II and those who want to replace it.

Dion Lefler: 316-268-6527, @DionKansas