Arena bookings look good so far

More than half of Sedgwick County voters were able to wrap their minds around the mere idea of a downtown arena in 2004, long before it had a site, design or facade, let alone a schedule.

You'd think that finally putting names and faces to some of the bookings long anticipated for the Intrust Bank Arena would firm up public support, just in time for construction crews to turn over the keys to the completed building on Friday night and for management firm SMG to take over.

In just the past few weeks, the arena has shown up on the schedules of Brad Paisley (Jan. 9), Bon Jovi (March 11), Taylor Swift (April 1), Tim McGraw (June 11), the Professional Bull Riders (May 7-8), the Harlem Globetrotters (Jan. 22) and Jeff Dunham (March 12).

Some of the names haven't needed a shiny new arena to visit Wichita before. But Bon Jovi, one of Pollstar's top 10 touring acts of 2008, hasn't been to Wichita since April 1989. That was half a year before the birth of Swift, by the way — the ubiquitous country-pop queen who was the biggest-selling U.S. artist of 2008.

Such acts, along with just about any country stars, are on the money for Wichita.

And the Wichita Thunder professional hockey team is scheduled to play its first game in its new home on Jan. 23. So far the new digs seem to be meeting with Thunder approval. General manager Joel Lomurno recently raved to The Eagle's Bob Lutz about everything from the showers to the storage space to the flat-screen TVs. And "all of our space is painted in Thunder blue," Lomurno said.

But according to a new SurveyUSA poll, sponsored by KWCH, Channel 12, Wichitans remain of two minds about the arena.

In the poll, taken last week, 53 percent of those surveyed said they were against the arena from the start and 64 percent said they don't plan to attend any of the events announced so far.

Yet 55 percent said the arena is booking the right acts to draw people to Wichita.

The 38 percent who said the announced acts had changed their opinion of the arena were evenly split on whether their view had improved or worsened.

The local economy seems a likely explanation for part of the poll's results — people newly unemployed or otherwise not in the market for concert tickets nevertheless can like what they're hearing about the arena's bookings. That disconnect should ease over time, as jobs and leisure dollars become more plentiful again in the community.

Some of the pressing questions about the arena, most notably about its dispersed parking, will be answered as Wichita lives with the venue for a while.

It was one thing to imagine a 15,000-arena where there wasn't one five years ago, and to believe in the power of a signature building to turn its corner of the city's core into a dynamic destination for concerts and sporting events. As each announced booking makes more clear, it's going to be something else to experience Intrust Bank Arena live and in person.