One big-time wish that drove the downtown arena project a decade ago was granted Monday – the chance to share the March Madness by hosting early rounds of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
That weekend, March 15-17, 2018, will be an outstanding opportunity for Sedgwick County’s Intrust Bank Arena to show teams, fans and officials a great time at a first-class facility. It will showcase for TV viewers the community that’s home to Wichita State University’s Shocker men, who lit up the sports world by making the Final Four in 2013 and winning 35 games in a row last season.
It will benefit hotels, restaurants and many other service businesses, also paying off in the sales tax revenues that help fund state and local government. Add to the estimated economic impact of $10 million the boost in community self-esteem, especially after Intrust Bank Arena was passed over in two other recent NCAA bidding contests.
Wichita isn’t new to this game, having hosted the men’s tournament eight times between 1964 and 1994 and the first and second rounds of the women’s tournament in 2011.
But the community’s rabid basketball fans weren’t going to be satisfied until the NCAA included Intrust Bank Arena, which opened in 2010, among the men’s venues.
The impressive scope of the collaboration on the latest bid surely helped, with WSU and the Missouri Valley Conference the official bidders and their partners including the city, the county, the Go Wichita convention and visitors bureau and the Greater Wichita Area Sports Commission.
Congratulations and thanks are due to all involved for finally getting the NCAA men’s tournament on the Intrust Bank Arena calendar – and just as the county undertakes a conversation about what the community wants from the facility during its second five years. Last week the County Commission voted 3-2 to give private firm SMG at least another six years as the arena’s manager.
Still under consideration is whether and how to have SMG deploy a $200,000 promotions fund meant to help land a name act or two among those inclined to pass Wichita by. If the details are in doubt, the need is not: The arena’s schedule needs more stars and diversity.
Meanwhile, Monday’s exciting announcement marks the start of a long process of preparation. The community will need to make up for what it may lack in convention-size hotels, say, in order to satisfy the NCAA and ensure future bids also meet with success.
But whether the NCAA men’s tourney will ever play at Intrust Bank Arena is no longer an open question. And no matter who wins the games in 2018, Sedgwick County and Wichita will win, too.
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman