Opinion Columns & Blogs

Century II Citizens Committee wants you to get engaged

Mary Beth Jarvis

Century II and the Wichita Skyline from 1/28/2016
Century II and the Wichita Skyline from 1/28/2016

For the past nine months, 12 dedicated volunteers have been working to understand the needs, aspirations and options for performing arts in our city and recommend a path forward.

Your Century II Citizens Advisory Committee was gathered because our region is at a crossroads, seemingly ready to overcome barriers hampering growth. Just as Project Wichita began to help set priorities for transforming our community, our mayor assembled us to represent our fellow citizens in assessing this issue.

Our areas of expertise are broad – banking, architecture, facilities management, events, the arts, marketing, law and other fields. We dug into the multiple studies done over the past eight years and gathered input from Century II tenants and users.

While sorting through complex and nuanced issues, we learned something very straightforward: the situation is more urgent than any of us realized.

Our 50-year-old facility faces significant structural problems, safety risks and functional issues.

Walls, staircases and floors are eroding. The roof leaks and the freight elevator and HVAC equipment must be replaced. Asbestos removal will be costly. Today’s trucks can’t use the loading area, so cargo gets schlepped through a public plaza and an event hall. Even more space is rendered useless because the halls are not soundproof.

Worker safety issues are also urgent. Catwalks must be replaced, and people are welding in unventilated basement hallways. And, we need a fully accessible building, for seniors, those with disabilities … all people.

It’s hard to swallow that spending more than $100 million in repair and upgrade projects isn’t enough. Additional issues are driving away attendees, limiting what we can stage and eroding our talent base and education programs.

Century II’s ceiling, backstage areas, lighting and technology limitations mean we can’t host 30-year-old shows like Phantom of the Opera, let alone modern works, such as Hamilton. Wichita deserves to be in the running for these, plus performers and technicians will follow today’s shows and training opportunities we can’t offer. And, people want experiences and amenities impossible for us to provide.

Many issues are behind the scenes, and our home-grown arts organizations somehow manage to create world-class productions despite severe constraints. And it was smart to delay and patch while we studied the problem. However, continued inaction is strangling our arts organizations and hurting our community’s future.

So far, our committee’s unanimous conclusion is that we’ve done enough studies and applied all the patches we can. A full-scale solution can’t be postponed. Any project must allow performances to continue, so we don’t damage our arts organizations irreparably.

Our committee is weighing the choices – renovate vs. build new, preserve the round building vs. create more gathering space for our community, etc. Ultimately, the different options could end up costing about the same, because you must phase any remodel.

No matter what, this will be a large investment – $200 million to $300 million – in our core/river area. Project Wichita research proved that what our community agrees on most right now is that it’s urgent we make changes to retain future generations.

The committee has this message for our fellow citizens: We heard you. You know our community must invest in ourselves with courageous steps forward. But you want those steps to be smart, well executed and serve everyone.

On your behalf, we’ve studied the issues. We’ll recommend an investment worthy of our exceptional performing arts organizations that benefits all members of this community.

We want input to help hone our findings, so please get informed and involved. Attend your next District Advisory Board, and we’ll be there. Or, invite one of us to speak to your group.

It will take lots of teamwork to build a vibrant, thriving Wichita for the next 50 years, and we are honored to serve to help achieve that vision.

Mary Beth Jarvis is chair of the Century II Citizens Advisory Committee