Special Reports

City says it's ready as it can be for arena's debut

A pricey welcome mat of asphalt, steel and cement is rolled out in all directions for the opening of Intrust Bank Arena this week.

New street lights illuminate new sidewalks; new sidewalks lead to new parking lots; and new parking lots have new electronic signs.

Already more than $22.5 million worth of work has been completed — not counting the $184.5 million arena.

"I think by the grand opening we'll have as many things done as we could with the time frame we had," said City Council member Lavonta Williams, whose district includes the arena area.

And, with a downtown revitalization plan under way and additional plans for the arena neighborhood, millions of dollars in additional spending is on its way.

Though much will hinge on the downtown plan and private-sector development, the city has already laid out some broad plans that call for four distinct districts:

* A business-oriented stretch of Douglas Avenue with ground-level store fronts.

* Safer and more comfortable routes between the arena and Century II via English and Williams streets.

* A residential and commercial neighborhood along Broadway.

* An arts district along Commerce Street.

Williams is particularly interested in the Commerce Street arts district, which is already home to studios and is a major draw during the Final Friday Art Crawl.

The city plans a $2.1 million makeover of that street in 2014. It's one of only a few ideas that have funding.

A tax increment finance district is expected to pay for more work on Market from Lewis to Douglas, St. Francis north of Douglas and stretches of English and Lewis streets.

There's also $10 million in TIF money that could be spent on parking facilities, most likely if the area attracted a major office building that would need employee parking during the day that could be opened to the public at night.

A lot of the future work around the arena will depend on the market analysis and plans being created for all of downtown.

But right now the city has to focus on making downtown a good experience for all of the people the arena brings downtown, said Ben Carlson, a planner and designer with Goody Clancy & Associates, which is creating a 20-year revitalization plan for downtown.

That will mean providing clear directions to parking and other attractions, he said.

"It's a great opportunity to bring more people downtown and help them see the vibrancy of Old Town, Naftzger Park and other parts of downtown that are really working," he said.

The lack of commercial lending and drab economy could lead to slower development near the arena than some expected.

But Carlson said he's optimistic about the market analysis his firm will present in mid-January.

So is council member Williams.

"I don't think we need to lower expectations," she said. "But we need to recognize the economy and be patient. And patience is hard sometimes."

Improvements so far

Here's a snapshot of the projects that have been done in the arena area in about the past year:

* A stretch of Waterman has been widened, repaved and has added new lights, sidewalks, lighting and drainage improvements.

* Several blocks of South Topeka have been repaved. The street also got new sidewalks and amenities.

* Segments of Emporia have been repaved, and it got new streetscapes, too.

* A small stretch of South St. Francis got a new coat of asphalt and new sidewalks and amenities.

Those projects totaled about $10.1 million — one-third paid by Wichita and two-thirds paid by Sedgwick County. The Waterman project alone cost about $10 million.

Three city-owned parking lots were repaved, reconstructed or expanded at a cost of about $2 million.

More than a dozen signs were put up downtown, along major freeways and at parking lots to direct traffic to the arena's parking lots. That ran about $471,000.

The free Q-line trolleys that circulate downtown extended their days and hours of service to 6 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 6 p.m. to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. That took a $128,000 federal grant and $32,000 from Sedgwick County.

There are many other less visible costs as well — such as the $52,234 the city agreed to pay AMPCO to hire and train parking lot attendants to manage arena parking lots.

That came in a contract amendment City Council members approved last week for AMPCO, which manages parking at City Hall as well. Parking revenue is expected to cover all additional expenses — if not, the county will pay.

Scott Kneble, a principal planner with the city who is handling many of the downtown revitalization plans, said many arena area improvements cost less than expected.

The signs, for example, were projected by city staff to cost about $850,000 — nearly double the actual price. Much of the savings was because of lower than expected bids.

"It turned out to be a hungry year for contractors," Kneble said.

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