Politics & Government

Sedgwick County gives $100,000 for river plan despite concern about board’s gender gap

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

Sedgwick County became the second local government Wednesday to put $100,000 of public money behind a privately led effort to plan redevelopment of the area around Century II and the WaterWalk in downtown Wichita.

The vote was unanimous, despite an objection by Commissioner Lacey Cruse that there’s a big gender gap on the 15-member board overseeing the Riverfront Legacy Master Plan for the east bank of the Arkansas River.

That umbrella group, Opportunity Wichita, includes representatives from five local economic development organizations: Downtown Wichita, the Greater Wichita Partnership, Visit Wichita, the Wichita Community Foundation and the Chamber of Commerce. One member represents W, formerly known as Young Professionals of Wichita.

Cruse questioned whether Opportunity Wichita is representative enough.

“Since this is a huge decision for the next 50 years, I want to make sure we have an accurate representation of both male, female, all race and ethnicities,” she said. “I don’t even know who’s on it. Is that something I could find out? And how was it selected?”

Jeff Fluhr of Downtown Wichita named 13 men and two women who are on the Opportunity Wichita board.

“Part of this goes back to the composition of who’s the board chair of the different organizations and who the CEO’s are,” Fluhr said.

Cruse voted for the funding, but also said, “Just because there aren’t CEOs that are women, I mean there are other women who are capable of doing this work. When 51 percent of our community are female, 50 percent . . . should be represented on this committee. That’s my point that I’m trying to make.”

The area to be studied, at a total cost of $700,000, is bounded by Douglas Avenue on the north, the Kellogg Freeway on the south, Main Street on the east and the river on the west.

“The project’s going to consider things like Century II, a new performing arts center, a convention center, the former municipal library, the WaterWalk area and additional public open space,” said Brent Shelton, the county’s economic development director.

The group plans to hire Populous Architecture, a company the city chose in 2014 to help work on concepts and site planning for a convention center and performing arts complex, and its subcontractors. RCLCO Real Estate Advisors will provide a market-driven plan and Olin Studio will develop “scenario designs.”

The county’s $100,000 funding matches the amount that the Wichita City Council approved for the project on Tuesday.

The remaining $500,000 will come from the private sector and quasi-governmental partner organizations.

The county also appointed Commissioner Michael O’Donnell to the Opportunity Wichita board.

Instead of spending county tax dollars on the study, O’Donnell suggested allocating the money from the county’s share of proceeds from the Kansas Star Casino — similar to what Wichita council members did in saying that they were pulling the money out of the city hotel tax.

“I think it takes away any type of negative stigma, (because) people think their property taxes need to go to roads, public safety, mental health, those core services,” O’Donnell said.

Sedgwick and Sumner counties each get 1 percent of the Mulvane casino’s revenue, about $1.8 million for fiscal 2019, according to state records.

Commission Chairman David Dennis noted that the money would come out of the county’s general fund anyway, so he didn’t see the point in telling the public it was from the casino.

“I understand it’s all semantics,” O’Donnell conceded.

Although Dennis offered to add that to the motion, O’Donnell dropped his request after Commissioner Jim Howell objected.

Howell said the state’s intent in giving the county a share of casino revenue was to help offset the extra law enforcement and social service costs that go along with having a casino in a community.

“It doesn’t really make me feel better necessarily to designate this as casino funds,” he said. “This is still property tax funds.”

According to Fluhr, the members of Opportunity Wichita’s board and the organizations they represent include:

Visit Wichita — Jim Korroch, Susie Santo

▪ Wichita Community Foundation — Wayne Chambers, Shelly Chenoweth Prichard

▪ Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce — Gary Plummer, Michael Monteferrante

▪ W (Formerly Young Professionals of Wichita) — Darryl Kelly

▪ Downtown Wichita — Don Sherman, Jason Gregory

▪ Greater Wichita Partnership — Jeff Fluhr, Evan Rosell, Charlie Chandler, Jon Rolph

▪ City of Wichita — Councilman Brandon Johnson

▪ Sedgwick County — Commissioner Michael O’Donnell

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Senior Journalist Dion Lefler has been providing award-winning coverage of local government, politics and business in Wichita for 20 years. Dion hails from Los Angeles, where he worked for the LA Daily News, the Pasadena Star-News and other papers. He’s a father of twins, director of lay servant ministries in the United Methodist Church and plays second base for the Old Cowtown vintage baseball team.
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