Politics & Government

Consultants call for bold vision on east bank of Arkansas River; C-II may not fit

Architects and planners hired to redesign the riverbank area that now holds the Century II convention center and the WaterWalk in downtown Wichita told a standing-room-only crowd of about 300 that now is the time to show bold vision and create a new waterfront for decades to come.

“Every time we have an opportunity to do a master plan we realize that we are setting the foundation for probably the next 30 to 50 years,” said Todd Voth of Populous, an international consulting group hired to replan the east bank of the Arkansas River south of Douglas downtown.

Voth and others have been hired to create a $700,000 plan called the Riverfront Legacy Master Plan. Around the room at Wednesday’s meeting were numerous examples of downtown areas the firm has redesigned. The public was invited to comment using Post-it notes on a bulletin board.

Voth said the most important part of the process will be community engagement.

“After all, this is your city,” Voth said. “This is not our city. We’re here to listen to you, to work with you.”

Public relations employees from the city, Sedgwick County and the private sector handed out cards with a schedule of four open meetings between now and January 2020 when the plan will be finalized.

The second-most important thing is to create a big vision for the east bank, Voth said.

“You can have a wimpy vision and you get a wimpy result,” Voth said. “You need to think about the big vision for the future. And when you do that, you will create your future in a way you never imagined. And I wholeheartedly believe that Wichita can do that.”

From Wednesday’s meeting, it appeared doubtful that vision will include the Century II, the city’s convention center and performing arts facility since the late 1960s.

Voth said he went to high school in Hutchinson and use to come to Wichita to cruise the streets of the “big city.”

He said the first concert he ever attended was at Century II.

“The reality was for me that that was a memory that was created and I love that memory,” Voth said. “That’s kind of looking backward and every once in a while we do that, but it’s also important to look forward.”

Before the meeting, Celeste Racette, the daughter of one of the community leaders who helped create the Century II, was asked to stop showing historical pictures and documents from her late father’s collection.

Racette is the daughter of Vincent Bogart, who was on the City Commission from 1963 to 1967 and mayor in 1964 and 1965.

She said she wanted people to understand what they’d lose if they tear down Century II, which was designed by two students of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

“I just don’t think the destruction of Century II should happen without presenting the history and significance of it” she said.

Tami Bradley, one of the public relations people involved in the planning process, told Racette to take away her small display of historical photos, documents and memorabilia that she’d spread out on an unused corner of a registration table.

“This isn’t part of our meeting today,” Bradley said.

Later, as she was leaving the building, Racette said “I actually thought this was going to be an opportunity for open discussion . . . I don’t know why they’re scared of me. I just want to talk about the legacy.”

The group from Populous brought a historical document of their own which they displayed during the meeting.

It was a newspaper story about Wichitans opposing Century II 50 years ago. That brought chuckles from many in the crowd.

Voth said he has noticed a momentum in the community for the kind of change his company’s been hired to bring.

“It is absolutely amazing how much has changed in the last six years,” Voth said. This momentum only happens every once in a while and we need to make the most of it. This is your moment to create your future and that is so exciting.”

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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.