Embrace, implement downtown plan

Though the goal of a vibrant downtown Wichita has generated some successes over the past few decades, including the Old Town district and the Intrust Bank Arena, the process has been halting and frustrating.

All of that must change — and it finally will, if leaders and citizens across the community embrace the new downtown master plan and assume their roles in its implementation.

Judging from the finished plan by Boston-based consultant Goody Clancy as discussed with The Eagle editorial board, the payoff should be well worth the effort, with a new energy and more places to live, work, relax and shop.

To begin with, the plan wisely builds on what the city already has working in its favor, including its new downtown housing projects, the hotels under construction and renovation, and its status as a hub for arts and culture.

It takes what has been emblematic of downtown's decay — Douglas Avenue — and seeks to turn it into a defining thoroughfare that pulls you into and through the city's heart.

"We want it to grab you," Mayor Carl Brewer told the editorial board.

It starts with a few choice blocks and projects that, aided by targeted parking and transit, hold the most promise for linking existing development into something that's welcoming and walkable. The area that spans Old Town, Union Station, Naftzger Park, the arena, the Commerce Street Arts District and the St. Francis corridor seems the right place to focus initial attention.

Perhaps most important, the plan portrays a full-service downtown as something that can be had not primarily through massive public expenditure but through $500 million in private investment and development strategically supported by $100 million in public tools, incentives and spending.

Too good to be true?

No, though it won't be easy or quick.

The process can be deliberative as well as collaborative. But to have faith in the promise of a vigorous downtown, Wichitans will need to see results.

Much of the day-to-day leadership will fall to the city's Scott Knebel and the Wichita Downtown Development Corp.' s Jeff Fluhr.

But "sustained political will is essential," observed Goody Clancy's David Dixon, a point that will be key next year in municipal elections for mayor and three City Council seats.

Landowners and developers and business, civic, arts, faith, neighborhood, tourism and youth leaders will be vital as well — and, in fact, have roles spelled out for them in the plan's intricate implementation matrix.

With Wichita's downtown master plan now in hand, the pressure shifts from the consultants to Wichitans to bring the vision alive.

We all have to recognize not only our town in all the pretty artist renderings of a reimagined core, but our places in realizing that extreme makeover.