Arena results a relief

Intrust Bank Arena’s second year lacked the strength of its first, so there was no giant $1.1 million profit-sharing check to pose with at Wednesday’s Sedgwick County Commission meeting. But the venue still performed remarkably well in 2011, and 2012 raises expectations for more acts and revenue.

News of the arena’s $389,659 net building income last year came as a relief considering the worrisome picture back in September, when the arena was $219,417 in the red for the year.

Because the county’s management deal calls for SMG to keep the first $450,000 of profit, the county won’t see the $389,659 from 2011. But the rocky year affirmed the county’s wisdom in crafting a unique contract under which SMG also would absorb any losses.

Plus, the county’s recent sale of the Kansas Coliseum complex should curb the future use of the arena reserve fund, which dropped from $14.6 million to $11.7 million last year as the county paid for improvements and subsidized operations at the Kansas Pavilions. Some of the cash also went for the one-time transformation of the old Coleman factory into a parking lot for Old Town and the arena.

And, of course, Intrust Bank Arena has the uncommon advantage among public facilities of having already been paid for, via a 30-month, 1 percent sales tax approved by voters in 2004 that actually went away as scheduled.

A.J. Boleski, the arena’s general manager, gave a lot of credit to the Wichita State University and Kansas State University men’s basketball games for boosting the arena’s fourth quarter, also praising the partnership with the new owners of the Wichita Thunder hockey team. He hopes to try again for an NBA preseason game this year.

And “it looks like a good, solid year as far as concerts out on the road,” he told county commissioners.

Indeed, the arena already has booked George Strait and Martina McBride (Feb. 18), Jeff Dunham (Feb. 25), Jason Aldean (March 16), Rodney Carrington (March 31), Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (April 26), and Nickelback (June 8).

But locals have to hope SMG also will snag some of the star acts going on the road this year, including Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, Lady Gaga, the reunited Van Halen, Justin Bieber, the Beach Boys and Fleetwood Mac. And the continuing lack of diversity among acts remains frustrating.

As it was, Intrust Bank Arena hosted only three of the acts on Pollstar’s list of top 25 North American tours of 2011 (No. 3 Kenny Chesney, No. 18 Trans-Siberian Orchestra and No. 25 Keith Urban), though five others on the same list had visited in 2010.

Meanwhile, last year the arenas in Omaha, Tulsa and Kansas City, Mo., variously offered acts such as Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Usher, Jay-Z/Kanye West, Lil Wayne, Jimmy Buffett, New Kids on the Block/Backstreet Boys, Janet Jackson and Ozzy Osbourne.

Two years later, Intrust Bank Arena remains a wonderful addition not only to the quality of life of south-central Kansas but to its downtown Wichita neighborhood. Here’s hoping 2012 offers more stellar opportunities to spend time and money there, and to prove Wichita is more than a country town.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman