It's outstanding news that the Wichita Boathouse has had its $650,000 renovation and reopened for business after five years of indecision, vandalism and decay. This new life is exactly what the community hoped for when it protested a proposal to bulldoze the Boathouse, a prime, atmospheric venue on the east bank of the Arkansas River. Thanks are due the Wichita City Council and other city officials for heeding citizens' pleas, as well as to benefactor Bill Koch.
The former Wichitan's donations made it possible for the building, once an oil company headquarters and then home to Senior Services, to be renovated in 1994 to resemble the old Riverside Boathouse. When the new Boathouse fell on hard times, Koch stepped up again to give it a new purpose — this time as home to the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame as well as a place for special events. Koch's dollars also helped refurbish the "Jayhawk" yacht (among those with which Koch won the 1992 America's Cup race), which rests on the Boathouse lawn and now becomes the sports hall's biggest and most iconic exhibit.
The hundreds of special occasions held at the Wichita Boathouse established a strong bond with the community in the decade before it closed. As a reader who attended a June wedding there observed in a letter to The Eagle, the Boathouse again is an impressive, functional facility with a special ambience. "To think that this beautiful building was nearly torn down is a shame," wrote Tara Wilson of Wichita.
The best way the community can express its gratitude for seeing the Boathouse saved is by visiting the first-floor sports museum when it opens later this summer and by booking and enjoying the facility's second floor.
Community leaders also can be free to include the Boathouse into the new thinking about downtown. As Arkansas River Coalition members said in a recent letter to The Eagle, the popularity of canoe and kayak rides and paddleboats during the recent Wichita River Festival signaled a public desire to experience the river. The Boathouse and nearby Gander Mountain remain a natural place for the city to improve access to the river and provide boat rentals.
The Boathouse, which came close to being a casualty of WaterWalk, should not be allowed to fall into disrepair again. Instead, it can be a valuable asset within WaterWalk and help the multiuse development realize its potential.