With all due respect to Brad Paisley, Jan. 9 was not just "another American Saturday night" for Wichita. It was the night when, with Paisley's high-spirited help, Sedgwick County finally opened its long-sought downtown arena.
Five years after Sedgwick County voters approved the 30-month arena sales tax and two years after that tax finished raising $206.5 million — yes, a new tax actually went away — the time at last had arrived for the inaugural concert at the Intrust Bank Arena.
About 10,000 people headed downtown, found places to park, took their seats and spent a cold night listening to some hot country music — pretty much as imagined and promised.
There were a few glitches in traffic and some wishes for more shuttle buses. There was that ill-timed failure of the much-touted parking Web site, parkdowntown.org. Some concertgoers drank too much and behaved accordingly. The Eagle has heard complaints about the lack of privacy in the men's restrooms. Not everybody thought the acoustics and sight lines were perfect. A couple of toilets overflowed.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
And one great night is no guarantee of future success.
But the opening concert provided some instant vindication for longtime proponents of the arena, including The Eagle editorial board.
For example, parking didn't prove to be a big deal, let alone a nightmare. Cars filled up six parking lots, but there was unused capacity in several others and along city streets.
Many people seemed to appreciate the variety of parking options — from paying as much as $15 nearby to parking in remote lots and riding trolleys for free.
Eagle reporters talked to concertgoers from as far away as Kansas City and Hays — confirmation of the drawing power of a top act at a top-quality venue and the arena's potential to boost tourism dollars.
Downtown restaurants and bars geared up for the arena crowd and weren't disappointed. Ty Issa, owner of Larkspur Restaurant and Grill, called it a "wonderful thing to see that it's a Saturday night and there's hardly an open seat."
That fulfilled another promise of a downtown arena — that it would be good for nearby businesses.
And that was only the beginning. Those who missed Paisley's show or Tuesday's ROK ICT Local Music Night will have many more opportunities to visit the 15,000-seat arena, including its Jan. 23 debut as the new home of the Wichita Thunder hockey team.
The people who worked so hard to bring the arena to the heart of Wichita had to feel good about its big debut. Now comes the part where many more people in the community find themselves at events at the arena, in the process coming to know and love it.