Guest Commentary

Riverfront planning is public — and about more than Century II

Lately, I’ve been disappointed to hear people dismissing a process that I am co-leading as a member of the Riverfront Legacy Master Plan coalition. This private-public effort is intentionally designed to be open and transparent. So I thought it might be helpful to try and correct some misperceptions.

First, the goal of the planning process is to engage the community with a group of world-class urban planners and real estate advisors to create a comprehensive vision and master plan for future development on the east bank of the Arkansas River, with a focus on the area between Douglas and Kellogg and east to Main Street. A group of private Wichita investors partnered with the city of Wichita and Sedgwick County to fund this planning process, and from the beginning we committed to engaging with the community. We remain steadfast in our desire to keep this process open to the public.

Let me emphasize that. This is a public process.

Let me also emphasize this is about more than what might happen to Century II. We realize much emotion is tied to that structure, and there are many opinions about what should happen. As a coalition, it’s our job to understand all perspectives and weigh that with what data and market-based analysis show us.

It won’t be easy, but those of us on the coalition knew that from the beginning. Our hope is that we can have rational discussions about what all of this means for the future of our community. At the first open house, earlier this summer, we introduced the design team — Populous, Olin Studios and RCLCO Real Estate Advisors — to the community, and we invited the community to bring ideas, ask questions and interact with the team about a vision for the east bank. We had more than 300 people come through the open house, including a standing-room-only crowd to hear a presentation from the team. In addition to an online option that is available 24/7, we have four more opportunities for public interaction between now and January, including a series of “Urban Explorations” coming up on the 24th and 25th of this month. We invite the community to come and take part.

The design team will lead a walking tour of the east bank, which includes Century II, the river, a vista view near the Hyatt Hotel and the Bob Brown Expo Hall. Immediately after the tours, the design team will invite the public to share their ideas. The design team will take notes, just as they did at the first open house.

Those ideas will be integrated with the research from the design team, to determine how we can define a vision and develop a comprehensive master plan that allows us to compete with other communities for talent, jobs and economic growth.

It is important to note, this plan is a work in progress. No decisions have been made or even proposed — not about CII or any other part of the plan. Concepts, proposals, potential costs and funding options will come in November and January.

The fact is, we are at the point in this master planning process where we are still gathering input, asking our design team to do research about market opportunities and to not forget our history as a visionary town settled by people willing to take a chance. We are pleased to know there are people who are passionate about this process and who are organizing to make sure their points are heard. At the same time, we’d like to make it clear this process is not about one issue or one place on the east bank of the Arkansas River. It’s about a comprehensive plan — one that allows us to connect, weigh the pros and cons, and come out the other side with a bold vision and plan for our riverfront. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so we invite everyone to come out and get informed and involved, and help us find solutions to what promises to be the most exciting, daring and difficult process we’ve encountered in a long time.

Michael Monteferrante is president and CEO of Envision and chairman of the Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber is joined on the Riverfront Legacy Master Plan Coalition by the city of Wichita, Downtown Wichita, Greater Wichita Partnership, Project Wichita, Sedgwick County, Visit Wichita, Wichita Community Foundation, Wichita Educational Foundation and W: A community of young professionals