Special Reports

What to look forward to in Wichita and Kansas in 2011

A new governor in Topeka. A new children's garden at Botanica. New dates for the River Festival, new school boundaries for Wichita students, a new era for the downtown arena.

The new year will bring growth and change — and a look back at history, as Kansas celebrates its 150th anniversary.

Here are notable events Wichitans can expect in 2011:

* Gov.-elect Sam Brownback will be sworn into office on Jan. 10, marking a GOP sweep of state offices and a stronger conservative majority in the Legislature.

* The $3 million Downing Children's Garden at Botanica is on schedule for a summer opening. A 20-foot-tall tree face, 10-foot sunflower petal, a "monster woods" of tree creatures and a musical maze will greet visitors as they explore plants and nature. The garden is seen as essential to Botanica, which has struggled financially along with other city attractions.

* The Wichita River Festival will be nearly a month later this year: June 3-11. Some are concerned that the festival will conflict with other long-standing events, including Music Theatre of Wichita's opening weekend, the Special Olympics Summer Games, the Symphony in the Flint Hills and Salina's Smoky Hill River Festival. To remedy that, officials are considering moving the finale pops concert and fireworks to opening night and staging many events away from Century II.

* New schools being built as part of Wichita's $370 million bond issue mean officials soon will have to redraw school attendance boundaries for much of the district. The school board likely will hold public meetings to answer questions about options this summer, in hopes of approving new lines by year's end.

* The Wichita City Council could change dramatically this spring, as voters cast ballots for mayor and four council spots — more than usual because of a vacancy created when council member Jim Skelton was elected to the Sedgwick County Commission in November. Three of seven Wichita school board positions also will be up for election in April.

* In foodie news , Wichita may get its first freestanding Chick-Fil-A at Central and Rock Road this year, though developers say the opening could be early 2012. Local middle-schooler Donovan Duggins, who won the annual Red Robin Kids' Cook-Off, will see his spicy Mount Vesuvius burger added to Red Robin menus this summer. Construction is coming along at Freddy's Frozen Custard & Steakburgers and Panera Bread near Maple and Ridge Road; look for openings in mid-February.

* Wichita's entertainment agenda for 2011 already includes notable performers — Kid Rock, Snoop Dogg, Kenny Chesney, Keith Urban and James Taylor. Music Theatre of Wichita's 40th anniversary season will feature "Sunset Boulevard," "Xanadu" and "The Little Mermaid." Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the best-selling memoir "Eat, Pray, Love," will make a stop in Wichita Feb. 17. And "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2," the eighth and final film in the series hits theaters July 15.

* Having a baby in 2011? If it happens after Feb. 2, your child will be born in the Year of the Rabbit and, according to the Chinese zodiac, will be gentle, compassionate, sentimental and cautious — if a bit insecure. Rabbit people also are known for their artistic sense and good taste.

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