How the city got Century II’s future started right

Century II was built in 1969. City leaders are taking recommendations to the community for input.
Century II was built in 1969. City leaders are taking recommendations to the community for input. File photo

Early discussion about Century II’s future had the look of a tornado warning with sirens blaring everywhere, yet no funnel in sight.

But the clouds have cleared. A consultant’s report has landed. And though city manager Robert Layton seemed to put the report largely to the side when he made recommendations to the City Council on Tuesday night, we have a starting point for Century II’s future.

Businessman Bill Warren can hold off on a third “Save Century II” radio spot – at least for now.

Layton’s recommendations were sensible and send two messages to the community.

1. We know you love the blue dome. Let’s move forward by talking about how we not only keep it, but improve it.

2. We’re losing convention dollars, and it’s time to do something about it.

The recommendations were simple. First, add 150,000 square feet to Expo Hall, the convention space attached to the south side of Century II. It would become competitive with convention centers around the Midwest.

Next, keep Century II intact as a performing arts center with needed renovations while exploring options for the Convention and Exhibition halls. Those portions of the building are unattractive to conventions because of triangular spaces.

Finally, study ways to privatize management of the convention center, saving the city about $1.8 million annually.

So fix the convention space problem, keep the blue dome and its performing-arts function, and save some money.

Layton’s recommendations are a nod to public sentiment. Fans of the blue dome have made themselves heard for months. A starting point of wrecking balls and bulldozers would’ve heated opposition immediately.

Community meetings about Century II could still be lively. Mayor Jeff Longwell suggested Tuesday, with a dry sense of humor, that the “community might want to weigh in with calls and emails. Who knows?”

The email inboxes of council members were no doubt full of citizen opinions on Century II. Wednesday, Longwell said he’d much rather have a great amount of input instead of a city that doesn’t sound off on important issues.

“That’s a community that cares about the future,” Longwell said.

Here’s hoping Wichitans turn out. City leaders will collect input and give it to a committee, which will be selected to decide on a proposal for the Council’s approval.

The committee figures to have pressure to please many sides. It will hear from private entities who may skip the public discussion process to have their say. The committee also gets to determine how to finance the projects, something city leaders don’t plan to address much at the community level.

City leaders want public discussions to begin soon. There are no sirens to be sounded yet, only feedback from Wichitans. We have our first indication whether Century II will make it to its 50th birthday in 2019. Let’s see what the process brings.