Feel good about arena, oversight

This week may best represent the moment when the Intrust Bank Arena in downtown Wichita takes over from the Kansas Coliseum in Park City as the "showplace of south-central Kansas," to quote the latter's longtime tagline.

The Sedgwick County Commission heard the final report of the Arena Sales Tax Oversight Committee on Wednesday. The Intrust Bank Arena hosts George Strait and Reba McEntire tonight, in the venue's first concert to offer and sell all 15,000 seats (and therefore fully test the arena neighborhood's parking capacity). And the Coliseum's Britt Brown Arena will close on Sunday after 32 years, and after hosting one last Kansas Sports, Boat & Travel Show (future events will be held only in the site's pavilions).

Sedgwick County certainly got its money's worth out of the Coliseum's austere arena, which cost a mere $10.3 million in 1978 and has provided countless memories since. To their credit, county officials continue to look for a new productive purpose for the Coliseum arena and the 200-plus acre complex — preferably one that will get it out of the red and onto the tax rolls.

But any sadness associated with the Coliseum arena's closing is offset by the boost that the month-old arena already has provided downtown Wichita, from its christening concert by Brad Paisley to its star-packed schedule.

And as county commissioners learned this week, the community should feel good not only about the arena but also its financing and oversight. The 30-month, 1 percent sales-tax increase, approved by county voters in 2004 and projected to bring in $184.5 million, generated more than $206 million — and accommodated increased project costs, noted an upbeat commission Chairman Karl Peterjohn, who once led the opposition to the arena.

Many of the laudatory comments Wednesday came from other original critics.

Committee member John Todd, who once characterized the arena-tax vote as illegal and suggested arena proponents were out for personal gain, this week praised the county's chief financial officer, Chris Chronis, and the "excellent process of citizen-monitored transparency and accountability" represented by the oversight committee.

Member Max Weddle, a fierce critic of the project's costs and promises, praised the design team and contractors, starting with co-manager Larry Pecenka. "This was amazing — how well that construction went, how small the change orders were and how smooth it went.... The county needs to bottle that lesson," Weddle said.

Committee member John Stevens, president of the Wichita Pachyderm Club and no fan of government spending, said Wednesday: "It was quite a team. The project, as large as it was, was outstandingly done, and I think you have a project there to be proud of for years to come."

That pride is in place and ready to grow, along with the energy the Intrust Bank Arena is delivering to downtown Wichita.