Opinion Columns & Blogs

Wichita can’t grow without Century II or a clear plan on how to replace it

The Wichita Eagle

As of Jan. 11, Century II has served this community for 50 years. Century II on paper may look like it loses money, but all you have to do is look at the economic impact to the Wichita community from events such as the American Bowling Congress, the Miss USA pageants and other national events.

Some in city leadership would like to demolish the venue due to its age. The maintenance and appearance are the responsibility of the city and those in charge of overseeing the operation of Century II. The city has chosen to defer maintenance, causing problems for those who attend the events at Century II.

The signs of neglect are clear from the outside. The lighted spire that sits atop Century II has not functioned for nearly 10 years. The flower beds that surround it have been left with no vegetation, just wood chips. Kennedy Plaza was in such bad shape it required major patching of the concrete before the River Festival.

The 30-plus-year-old Expo Hall has dark streaks on the face of the main entry and the roof has leaks, but Expo hall doesn’t seem to be part of the discussion. Replacing Expo Hall with a larger space that can be divided — and improved meeting rooms — is the real answer to bringing in new conventions.

I gave countless tours of the performing arts center and people commented on how well maintained Century II was. The building’s flexibility made it a great match for many national conventions and conferences.

Century II Concert Hall has been called inadequate to handle Broadway touring shows. To my knowledge, only one show has passed on Wichita, all of the others have worked to fit in the venue just as they must in other cities. The Wichita Symphony, Grand Opera, and Music Theatre Wichita all rely on Century II.

So what if Century II goes away? What will replace it? How much will it cost? In Kansas City, the Kauffman Center for the Arts cost around $413 million in 2011. It has two halls but neither one can hold a Broadway show. In Fort Worth, the Bass Performance Hall cost around $65 million in 1998 — or around $100 million today. Perhaps a price tag of well over $500 million would be needed to replace what we have today.

The Wichita community can’t continue to grow without Century II or a clear plan on how to replace it and how to pay for it. City leadership has a responsibility to maintain Century II until the community has time to consider what it wants to do for its future.

The city’s paid study that suggests that the property Century II sits on is so valuable that it can be developed for more than the building is worth to the community is a laugh. I have respect for members of the Citizen Advisory Board on Century II, but they have also been given flawed information about the performing arts center. When the practices of the city create the problem, they should be held reasonable for correcting the problem and not use it as an excuse to replace a valuable community asset.

I hope to hear from others in the Wichita community about what they consider important to the future of our city. There is so much more to be said.

Timm McCurdy is the former operations manager and acting director of Century II