Saying they want to save the big blue roof instead of tearing it down in favor of a more modern convention center, three of four candidates for a northeast Wichita seat on the City Council stood up for Century II in a campaign forum Friday.
One candidate said he wants to study the issue and get more public input before taking a stand.
Last month, the council hired a consultant to look at options for opening public land around Century II to development, with an eye toward remodeling or replacing the nearly 50-year-old performing arts and convention venue.
At the Pachyderm Club forum Friday, candidates and crowd sentiment favored renovation over tearing the building down and starting over.
Three candidates for the District 1 seat, John Stevens, Mike Kinard and Janet Wilson, favored saving Century II. Candidate Brandon Johnson called for further study before making a decision.
“I’ve heard some really good pros for keeping it and some cons for getting rid of it,” Johnson said. “But I think there are more studies to be done as far as what the maintenance looks like, what the investment would be if there was to be a new building there.”
The candidates who favor keeping Century II all agreed that it’s an iconic part of Wichita that should be preserved unless there’s a public vote to get rid of it.
Stevens, who is also president of the Pachyderm Club, drew a round of applause when he compared Century II favorably to Intrust Bank Arena, the Sedgwick County-owned and privately managed 15,000-seat sports and concert venue that opened in 2010.
“If you just look out the window there, you can see the arena,” Stevens said. “We spent $200 million on that. How many seats do you want to build?”
Century II “is a very unique building,” he said. “I would like to see it renovated but not torn down. It’s just too much structure to take apart.”
Wilson called Century II “a symbol of Wichita.”
“I grew up all my life looking at the blue top,” she said. “To me that’s Wichita. … Renovate it if we can, and if we can’t, take it to the people and get their input on it.”
Kinard, a former member of the Wichita school board, said he prefers to keep Century II and it shouldn’t be torn down without a public vote.
“Century II is an iconic symbol of our city, and I would hate to see that thing just be razed and gone away,” he said.
District 1 is the only council race that drew enough candidates to justify an Aug. 1 primary. The two top vote-getters will move on to a runoff Nov. 7.
The Pachyderm Club has committed to remaining neutral to respect the nonpartisan nature of municipal elections, although it is a Republican organization and its own president is a candidate.
James Clendenin, the incumbent council member seeking re-election in southeast Wichita’s District 3, and Cindy Claycomb, a candidate in the Midtown-based District 6, also spoke at the forum. Both took a wait-and-see position on Century II.
Their opponents, William Stofer in District 3 and Sybil Strum in District 6, did not attend the forum.
Because there are only two candidates in the District 3 and 6 races, all four candidates will automatically advance to the November election.