Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell said he thinks Mead’s Corner “was not a significant structure” after his opponent, Brandon Whipple, said he was “heartbroken” when the building was torn down last month.
The comments were made during a Tuesday evening candidate forum held at the Wave in Old Town that focused exclusively on arts and culture. Moderator Tom Shine of public radio station KMUW had asked candidates for mayor, City Council and the Wichita school board about their visions for Century II and keeping the public fully informed.
The performing arts and convention center along the east bank of the Arkansas River in downtown Wichita has been a focal point of discussion by some as consultants evaluate options for redeveloping that area of the city. The round, blue-roofed building was designed by students of famed American architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
“I want to start off by saying I was absolutely heartbroken to watch Mead’s Corner get torn down,” said Whipple, a state representative whose district includes includes parts of south Wichita. “I would be equally heartbroken to watch such an iconic building as Century II get torn down. I believe that Wichita’s future is balancing our history with the changing needs of our society.
“And to do that, we can still keep our historic buildings. So long as we have the will, we will find the way.”
The 109-year-old building at the corner of Douglas and Emporia in downtown Wichita that formerly housed Mead’s Corner coffee shop was razed last month. The City Council voted in December to allow a developer to demolish the building, despite the Historic Preservation Board’s vote against demolition.
“We have a rich history in this community of saving buildings,” Longwell responded.
The mayor listed the Keen Kutter warehouse building, which is now the Hotel at Old Town; a $55 million renovation of the Union Station train terminal; saving the Spaghetti Work building, which he called “an incredibly beautiful old brick building;” and the planned multi-million dollar transformation of the former Finney State Office Building into a medical complex.
“You can see it all throughout our city where we have embraced some rich architectural features and have been able to save that and appropriate it into a renewed vigor that we have in Wichita,” Longwell said. “And we will continue to do that where it is appropriate.
“I can tell you that Mead’s building was not a significant structure and what’s going to be replacing it will be something this community is going to fall in love with. It’s going to be an incredibly nice, brick, four-story building with the first floor being mixed-use space that we’re going to truly enjoy.”
As for Century II, Whipple said that elected officials should listen to the public when making a decision on the building. If it is renovated, he said, the organizations that use the space should not “go dark.”
Longwell did not specifically mention Century II in his response to the question about the performing arts center. He did say city leaders should “engage this community” on plans for the east bank of the river, and that “it is incredibly important that we get it right.”