Special Reports

Speaker: Downtown plans take time

A man stops to look at a detail on the railroad overpass on east Douglas in downtown Wichita. Research has shown that underpasses present a psychological barrier to pedestrian traffic.
A man stops to look at a detail on the railroad overpass on east Douglas in downtown Wichita. Research has shown that underpasses present a psychological barrier to pedestrian traffic. The Wichita Eagle

A national downtown-development consultant brought a simple message to Wichita on Thursday night at the Wichita Downtown Development Corp.' s annual lecture:

Be patient.

Jim Cloar, a private-development specialist who last was president and CEO of the Downtown St. Louis Association, told a crowd of about 300 at the Scottish Rite Temple that if Wichita sticks to a master plan under development, success is likely downtown.

"One of my favorite sayings is that Baltimore's overnight success story took 30 years to accomplish," Cloar said.

"Patience and sticking to it is a lesson you take with respect to your plan. You want to see some near-term results, but some things will take a little longer."

Cloar praised Wichita's downtown assets, including Old Town and the Intrust Bank Arena.

"I'm impressed with the lot of things I've seen here," he said. "You have a lot to build on, from the big projects and the little projects like your parks."

Cloar's lecture focused on implementation, specifically the three public-private partnerships he helped forge in Dallas, Tampa, Fla., and St. Louis to create everything from an arts district to a new sports arena.

All took time — from the 1977 initiation of the arts district in Dallas to development around the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa and the decade-long revival of downtown St. Louis.

In Dallas, seven years elapsed, Cloar said, before the Dallas Museum of Art opened in 1984, followed several years later by Meyerson Symphony Center. All were public-private partnerships, with the city taking a lead financing role in buying land and building buildings.

"At that point, the newspapers were saying the arts district plan had failed," Cloar said."... all we had was a museum and symphony hall. In fact, it was a 20-year plan.

"Sometimes people get a little impatient."

The plan continues to evolve today, Cloar said, with three new projects — including the AT&T Performing Arts Center — in the past three years.

Same story in Tampa, he said, where a debate over the location of the Ice Palace — now the St. Pete Times Forum — finally ended with it landing downtown. It turned into the catalyst for a mixed-use development, including condos, hotels, parks, the Tampa Bay History Center, a cruise ship terminal and other commercial development toward the city's once-isolated downtown aquarium.

In St. Louis, Cloar said, city leaders began work in 1993 on a master plan designed to attack the city's population erosion — from 850,000 in 1950 to around 350,000.

The plan targeted increased downtown residences, a mixed-use community, more parks and plazas and a pedestrian and bike network. To create it, city officials targeted four development districts, including the Old Post Office and Laclede's Landing, an entertainment district.

"It happened before I came, but they picked these four areas because they thought they were areas ripe for early action and areas that could be catalysts for further development," Cloar said.

It's essential for Wichita going forward to involve as many residents as possible in the decision-making process, Cloar said.

"I want to encourage as many of you as possible to take part in the process," he said.

"And identify the alligators. It's not politically correct for me to say this in Florida, but when you come to a pond, you're not sure what's a log and what's an alligator. So throw a big rock out there and steer your path."

Mayor Carl Brewer agreed, urging the audience to take part in a Saturday public input session at the Wichita Art Museum.

"This is another step in our journey to make our city even better," Brewer said. "About learning from others how they've done what we're going to do.

"It's our plan, our vision, our dreams of what our community will look like."

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