Politics & Government

Replace or renovate? Report offers two options for future of Century II

Aerial view of Century II

A look at Century II from the air. While the city of Wichita grapples with what to do with the aging Century II – either renovate or scrap and start over, we take a drone flight over the 48-year-old building that opened in 1969. (Video By Bo Rader
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A look at Century II from the air. While the city of Wichita grapples with what to do with the aging Century II – either renovate or scrap and start over, we take a drone flight over the 48-year-old building that opened in 1969. (Video By Bo Rader

A consultant’s report on Century II recommends either tearing down the iconic round blue-roofed performing arts center building, or turning it into a downtown marketplace that could include office and residential space.

The report also recommends privatizing all the city’s convention and performing arts functions.

The report examines two scenarios for Century II: One would renovate and repurpose the existing structure. The other would tear it down and start over with a new convention and performing arts center.

Both scenarios were presented to the City Council during a workshop session Tuesday night by city staff and consultants with the San Francisco-based Arup Advisory Inc. group.

The city hired Arup at a cost of nearly $300,000 to examine proposals to upgrade Century II and explore ways to pay for it.

Either proposal would be partially funded by selling off publicly owned land around the Century II for private development, including the current downtown library building that is soon to be replaced by the Advanced Learning Library under construction near McLean and 2nd Street.

The report also includes taxing options to help pay for the changes.

Renovation plan

The renovation plan would relocate Music Theatre Wichita, The Wichita Symphony and the Wichita Grand Opera to one or more performing arts centers to be built somewhere else downtown.

Potential drawbacks to that proposal include a reduction in overall space for conventions, but that would be offset somewhat by the creation of private businesses at the site that would complement the conventions and generate sales taxes, the report said.

Overall, the cost of that plan would be about $272 million.

“Renovating a facility while it’s in operation is very difficult and raises costs significantly,” said Ignacio Barandiaran, a principal with the Arup group.

About nine acres could be sold to the private sector, generating about $12 million.

Reconstruction plan

The more ambitious reconstruction plan would replace the existing Century II buildings with a more-or-less rectangular structure that would continue to house both convention and performing-arts functions.

“This completely redesigns it,” said John D’Angelo, the city’s arts and culture manager. “We do remove the blue roof from the skyline.”

The estimated cost of that project would be about $492 million.

This proposal would free up 21 acres to be sold for development, bringing in about $20 million, the report said.

Under either option, other funds could come from a combination of taxes, private philanthropy and selling naming rights to the buildings, the report said.

Selling the naming rights to the center for its first 20 years of operation could be expected to generate about $10 million.

Privatization

The Arup report was firm in its recommendation to privatize the operation of the conventions and performing arts under either building scenario.

Century II now runs about a $1.8 million deficit per year, about $1.2 million on the convention side and $600,000 on the performing arts side, the report said.

Privatizing those operations would shift that risk from the city government to a private entity that would be free to make changes to generate more revenue.

One area where the report criticized the city was its current food-and-beverage contract with the adjacent Hyatt Hotel.

On average, the Hyatt brings in more money from food and beverage service at Century II in a month than the hotel pays the city in a year, the report said.

Eliminating the operating deficit could generate as much as $55 million in upfront cash for construction, Barandiaran said, based on 30 years of savings.

Taxing options

But even after the operational savings and development income are factored in, “the bad news is it’s significantly below what would be needed to deliver either of the concepts,” he said.

One possible tax plan mentioned in the report would be a temporary 1 percent sales tax like the one Sedgwick County used to raise money to build the Intrust Bank Arena, which opened about seven years ago.

Another is increased use of tax-increment financing, which would capture future property tax at the site to pay back money borrowed to build the project.

Renovation option

Key features:

▪  Keeps Century II buildings.

▪  Repurposes the north circular building as a fresh-food marketplace, office space and/or residential space.

▪  Arts, including theatre, symphony and opera, would move to new venues to be built elsewhere downtown.

▪  Opens nine acres for sale to private developers, including current library building.

▪  Estimated cost: $272 million.

▪  Operations would be privatized.

Reconstruction option

Key features:

▪  Century II buildings would be torn down and replaced.

▪  Convention and performing arts would continue to be at the same site.

▪  Opens 21 acres for sale to private developers, including current library building.

▪  Would include large ballroom.

▪  Estimated cost: $492 million.

▪  Operations would be privatized.

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