A year after a proposal to close them sparked an outcry, the Kansas Coliseum's pavilions have a newly defined future and a new identity as the "Kansas Pavilions," with restroom and parking upgrades promised. Sedgwick County deserves credit for taking the pavilions off the community's endangered list and allowing the venue's loyal users to be able to count on the facility through at least 2016.
After the closure of the Kansas Coliseum's Britt Brown Arena and indecision over what to do with the Coliseum site in the wake of the Intrust Bank Arena's opening downtown, it was good to see county officials enthusiastically commit to the pavilions last week as the important community asset they are, especially for horse and dog shows and other events with regional drawing power and economic impact.
The county also is working on a new business plan for the pavilions, which should further answer questions and identify a sustainable strategy.
Pat Deshler, corresponding secretary of the Wichita Kennel Club, spoke for many in the community in telling the Sedgwick County Commission: "I'm pleased that you're recognizing that it is a public service project to keep these open, because there are many activities that couldn't go on in Wichita and wouldn't go on in Wichita if they weren't available."
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Making the financial numbers work on the Kansas Pavilions will remain a challenge, so the facility doesn't become an unacceptable drain on a county budget already strained by the economy.
Nobody wants to see rents and other prices rise. But as a report to the county recommended, fee increases will be a necessary part of keeping the facility revenue-neutral, open and available. If users count on the venue as much as they have argued to the county, they will find a way to do their part to secure the Kansas Pavilions' future.
While the new name should ease confusion about what is and isn't in use on the Coliseum site, it will be regrettable if the "rebranding" overtakes the proper name of one part of the facility, the Sam E. Fulco Pavilion. The designation honored the late, long-serving first director of the Coliseum; as The Eagle editorialized in 1995, "Sam Fulco was the Kansas Coliseum." There ought to be a way to keep his name alive, along with the pavilions.
Settling the fate of the pavilions brings the county at least a step closer to deciding what to do with the entire 200-plus acre complex — on hold since county commissioners voted 3-2 last November not to open talks with either of two developers that had variously proposed a rodeo resort and a mix of retail and entertainment.
The decisions are complicated, including by the habitat of a protected spotted skunk on the site. At least two commissioners have said they want to clear and sell the site of the skunk habitat and Wiedemann RV Park.
In any case, the county's willingness to address the status of the Coliseum site shouldn't end with the pavilions vote and improvements.