Wichita’s city manager recommended Tuesday that the City Council keep the blue dome building of the Century II Convention and Performing Arts Center, but modernize it, expand it and change the way it is managed.
The proposal by City Manager Robert Layton came after a consultant’s presentation on the potential opportunities and costs of renovating or replacing the center.
The consultant looked at the possibility of tearing down the iconic round building or turning it into a downtown marketplace that could include office and residential space.
The report recommends privatizing all the city’s convention and performing arts functions.
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Layton’s recommendations build off the consultant report but are more modest.
He recommended adding 150,000 square feet of convention space to the existing facility, and possibly repurposing some of the round building for retail
He offered four possible scenarios for managing the building, seeking to cut the city’s annual operating deficit of about $1.8 million and save money for new construction:
- Contract for private management.
- Lease the facility long term to a third party.
- Form a partnership with the county for joint management of Century II and the Intrust Bank Arena.
- Contract with Visit Wichita for marketing and management services.
He also recommended forming a citizen’s committee to study the possible work on the building, and seeking to determine whether the current downtown library can be incorporated into the convention center to provide meeting space.
The consultant’s report examined two scenarios for Century II: One to renovate and repurpose the existing structure. The other to 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 could 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 that could be used to help pay for the changes.
The renovation plan studied by the consultant would have potentially relocated 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.
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.
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.
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.