Special Reports

Warm welcome for Intrust Bank Arena

Brad Paisley performs during the inaugural concert at Intrust Bank Arena.
Brad Paisley performs during the inaugural concert at Intrust Bank Arena.

Country star Brad Paisley wrapped up the inaugural concert at Intrust Bank Arena after a Saturday night that most say went smoothly and easily.

Freezing weather took most of the heat from those who attended the first concert at the new Intrust Bank Arena in downtown Wichita on Saturday night.

The parking? No problem.

The traffic? Slow, but smooth on the way in.

The acoustics? Just fine.

The arena? Looked good.

The sports and entertainment venue owned by Sedgwick County and financed by a countywide sales tax officially opened its doors to the public for Paisley's concert at 6:08 p.m.

The first thing it offered the people was warmth.

A line of concertgoers had been waiting in 19-degree weather outside the entrance for as long as two hours before the event. A large inflatable wolf from a radio station blasted country music as the crowd huffed icy puffs of breath into the night sky.

Several attendees said they came early expecting traffic congestion or parking problems, but were pleasantly surprised.

“It all worked great," Wichitan Dana Aaby said. "We found parking right across the street."

The sold-out concert drew more than 10,000 people, said to Chris Presson, the arena’s general manager.

He was more than pleased with how the evening turned out.

“I can honestly say we haven’t had one negative comment,” Presson said. “It’s been an extremely good night. Things have gone very smoothly and we’re really pleased. Anytime you can get through your first ticketed event unscathed, it’s a major accomplishment.”

During an interview with reporters before he went on, Paisley said it was fun to open a new arena.

"It's a great feeling to kick something off and see the whole town come out and support it," he said.

Paisley joked about some of the advantages of a new building. One example: The funnel cakes wouldn’t be as greasy as they are after grease accumulates in older buildings, he said.

Early-arriving concert-goers included Leanne Batt, who ventured downtown from Haysville at about 5:30 p.m. hoping to avoid crowds and congestion. A friend had secured a good — and free — parking place. And the will-call ticket process went smoothly, she said.

"I'm really impressed with how easy it is to find everything," Batt said.

Craig and Janae Atkerson drove in from Hays to attend the concert and said they planned to stay overnight in Wichita.

"We're big Brad Paisley fans," Craig Atkerson said. "But we also wanted to see this new place."

Like other members of the crowd who rushed in when the doors opened, the Atkersons had to wait several minutes in the lobby, as concert-goers funneled through security and ticket takers.

"It looks really nice," Craig Atkerson said, glancing around the lobby. "Pretty cool."

Dale Brown brought his family of four to the show and waited for about a half an hour outside in the cold. His wife and kids wore coats. He wore shorts.

"I'm from Chicago, so this is nothing," he said with a laugh.

The family had come to last Saturday's open house, hoping to get a feel for the arena before concert night.

"We've been waiting for this for quite a while," he said.

When the concert started, harmonica riffs and a loud rooster crow launched the first performance of the evening by Justin Moore.Moore asked the sold-out crowd, "How many country girls we have in Wichita tonight?"

The response? "Woooooooo!"

Favorable amenities

In section 104, Michelle Stewart and Jennifer Scott liked the view from their seats.

"The cup holders are great," Stewart said, smiling and motioning to her margarita in a plastic cup. "The place is really nice. It reminds me of the Sprint Center in Kansas City."

Scott, who voted against the sales tax that funded the arena, said she's pleased with the facility, and the ticket and concession prices so far.

"It's actually a lot nicer than I imagined," she said. "I didn't support it because I was really afraid prices would go way up and no one would be able to afford a concert. Luckily, that hasn't happened."

The arena’s rest rooms worked — for the most part.

Kim Madison and her mother Peggy Bowen had to evacuate a rest room that stopped working and started leaking. But they found another a few feet away.

"The rest rooms are great," Bowen said. "The seats in the arena are real tight, but that would be my only complaint."

During a break after performer Miranda Lambert's final song, Lindsay Weatherby and her brother, Ryan, sipped beers and chatted with a friend in the concourse. She said they liked the arena but thought the ushers were being "a little too bossy."

"They were like, 'Take your seat! Get to your seat!'" Weatherby said."But the aisles were clear, and we were just wanting to scope it out a little bit. It's a brand-new place and we wanted to look it over. We can't be the only ones wanting to do that tonight."

Alan Banta, president of Trans Pacific Oil and a supporter of downtown development, said he was "just thrilled" to witness the inaugural concert.

"After all the work and all the effort so many people put into this (arena), it's just so wonderful to see it come together like this," said Banta, who watched the show from one of 40 loge boxes.

He and his wife, Amy, and two friends snacked on cheese, crackers and fruit and snapped photos of one another overlooking the stage.

"This is so, so cool," Amy Banta said. "Everything is just great."

Variety of foods

Most concert-goers crowded the concession stands in the concourses to try a variety of foods — everything from $3.50 hamburgers to $4 servings of hummus.

One booth offered corndogs and funnel cakes. One was dedicated to selling Carlos O' Kelly's golden margaritas for $7.50 a pop.

Jon Rolph, the executive vice president of Carlos O' Kelly's, said he was running back and forth between his restaurant's many booths. The demand for his food — particularly burrito wraps — hit a lot earlier than he expected, a good problem to have, he said.

"I think a lot of people came early to make sure they got decent parking then wanted dinner and recognized our name," he said.

Michelle Ingram, the winner of the "Golden Ticket" prize, which will afford her tickets to every show at the arena all year, had seats in the front of the Budweiser Brew Pub, giving her a birdseye view of the entire arena bowl.

Her friend Chris Walker had the chicken basket and a large beer for $13.75. She had nachos and a beer for $11.50.

"I thought the prices were pretty reasonable, considering," Ingram said.

Many ate out beforehand.

Downtown bars and restaurants experienced an early rush of pre-concert customers, starting two hours before the event.

“It’s a wonderful thing to see that it’s a Saturday night and there’s hardly an open seat,” said Ty Issa, owner of Larkspur Restaurant and Grill, 904 E. Douglas.

The crowd cleared out by 7 p.m.

The restaurant almost doubled its staff for the night. Usually, its biggest crowd comes in from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m., said manager James Chesick. He wasn’t sure if the rush before the show made up for the business the restaurant lost during the show.

In the long run, Chesick said, the arena will mean better business for the restaurant.

By 6 p.m., a pre-concert crowd had created a 45-minute wait at Uptown Bistro, 301 N. Mead. Three hours later, it was as busy as a normal Saturday night, said Lauren Smith, assistant general manager.

“The downtown area has always been good for business, but the last few months things have been a little slow, so to see this influx of business was very refreshing,” she said.

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