Opinion Columns & Blogs

Kirk Seminoff: Century II is worth saving, but can we do better?

By recommending Century II receive renovations and not be torn down, Wichita city manager Robert Layton is setting the bar for the downtown project low and seeing if the community will challenge city leaders for more.
By recommending Century II receive renovations and not be torn down, Wichita city manager Robert Layton is setting the bar for the downtown project low and seeing if the community will challenge city leaders for more. File photo

I love Century II as much as the next Wichitan. Young People’s Concerts – and running up the wheelchair ramps before entering – were a grade-school thrill. And I gave one of the three-best high school graduation speeches in the Concert Hall on a May night in 1984.

(There were only three.)

Music Theatre. Concerts. Car shows. Newman University basketball games back when they wore short sleeves.

And still, every time I enter any of Century II’s four main venues, I marvel at the terrazzo floors. At the architecture. At the class that our city forefathers demanded in the design 50 years ago.

Now, at 50 myself, I’m realizing the next generation should be marveling a downtown icon, too.

The question is whether it’s Century II or something bigger and better.

Better than the blue dome, you say? The building that makes our downtown different from any other?

Yeah, maybe.

Look, this discussion needs to happen. It has started in our opinion pages, on social media and in gathering places around town.

The “Save Century II” part of the community is loud and proud. Its argument is clear: Century II is a Wichita jewel. Its design may not be great for conventions, but it’s perfect for performing arts, and tearing down the dome in the name of progress is short-sighted.

It’s a good argument, one that I subscribe to – mostly. A Century II with renovations would remain a highlight of the city.

Unless we’re convinced we can do much better in a project that makes us proud of a new downtown icon for the next 50 years.

As it is, a renovation Century II is the baseline for the recommendation city manager Robert Layton made to the City Council on Tuesday.

Layton proposed first expanding the adjacent Expo Hall to make it competitive for conventions. Then renovate Century II to become primarily a performing arts center. Community discussion would kick off the Century II part of the plan.

Layton could’ve recommended a much bigger and expensive starting point – new convention center, new performing arts center, tear down all current pieces. But in starting smaller, he opened the needed discussion.

This is where we learn the strength of other community voices.

Many would be fine tearing down Century II. It may not be as iconic to younger generations.

Combine them with Wichitans who say it’s time to think on a grand scale – new, classy facilities that pay homage to Century II while incorporating private development to create a daily downtown destination – and it’s a combination that may be able to shout as loudly as the Save C-II folks.

The City Council will approve, deny or tinker with Layton’s recommendation at their Oct. 3 meeting. If it goes forward, community discussions wouldn’t begin until late this year or early 2018, then a committee would be tasked with creating a proposal — including how to finance it all — for the Council.

So you have plenty of time to think about Century II and your downtown. What do you want it to be in 10, 25, 50 years?

Then get to a community meeting. Write a letter to the editor. Don’t sit silently in the background. If you do, there’s no complaining later.

The great thing? There may not be a wrong answer.

Kirk Seminoff: 316-268-6278, @kseminoff

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