Special Reports

First look at city's future

The Wichitans that filed into the Bank of America atrium Tuesday night didn't need a sales pitch on downtown revitalization. Several hundred of them came in search of details, and that was good enough for Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer.

"I'm just very excited to see the number of people who are coming and getting information," Brewer said. "All the reports I've heard are fantastic. They're just telling me, 'Go get it done.' "

City officials unveiled their $600 million plan to revitalize downtown in an open house in the bank's atrium to a crowd of residents and a few developers.

The plan, which presumes a half-billion dollars in private investment and about $100 million in public investment over the next decade, will target three core downtown areas in the first 12 to 18 months.

It first targets retail, entertainment and housing growth along the Douglas corridor, Union Station and the Naftzger Park area, the Commerce Street arts district and the St. Francis corridor.

City leaders and downtown were under the microscope Tuesday night for a Wichita-based hotel development group.

"I want to find out the feel of what downtown will look like," said Jeff Jones, a project manager with the Lodgeworks hotel development group

Jones said his company will take a look at a downtown Wichita hotel.

"It has to meet the feel test," he said. "The revenue has to be here. You need bodies, visitors, excitement."

Jones said Wichita has a good start on a vital downtown.

"Retail's the hardest thing to get here, but you need good nightlife and Old Town's trying to do that," he said.

Improved transit is essential to a redeveloped downtown's success, Jones said.

"Everything has to be in walking distance for this to work," he said. "And in my view you need a better transit system. I work in Charlotte, N.C., and they have a great light-rail system. And they're putting in a new streetcar system."

The plan recommends 250 to 400 newly constructed hotel rooms within walking distance of Century II.

There was widespread support for the plan throughout the crowd, and a lack of concern about the price tag.

"I think all of the people here are interested in downtown," said former Wichita City Council member Rip Gooch

"The future of any major city depends on how they maintain and keep the growth in the center of the city. Too many major cities have taken a dive when business moves out of downtown and takes the tax base with it. So I'm looking forward to growing downtown Wichita."

"I'm not so concerned about the price tag they're talking about," said Marvin Stone, a Wichita resident. "Because, if we're going to move forward we're going to have to spend money to get there.

"What they want to do is make downtown vital again and that will generate more tax base for the city."

But others had a variety of questions about downtown's future.

"I think that the biggest challenge for downtown development is the multiple ownership of the underlying ground, the land lease issue," said Mike Frederick, who manages the Riverview Building near Central and the river for The Law Co.

"The parking," Stone said. "It's really essential for the city to do something so people will have adequate access — within a block or two — of whatever they're talking about putting in."

Steve Brown, who runs a photography business near the Commerce Street Arts District, praised the city and county's work on Intrust Bank Arena.

But he cautioned that Commerce Street's arts feel could be lost if city officials aren't careful.

The arts district is just south of the arena near Waterman and Commerce. It is a mix of artist studios, small businesses and residential lofts.

"If they do too much in Commerce, the price of that area for the artists will go up, they'll leave and they'll take with them the activity that's going on now," he said.

"You can spend a lot of money and make Commerce really hip, really cool and really expensive."

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