Opinion Columns & Blogs

Jeff Fluhr: Downtown has had remarkable results

Four years ago, the Wichita City Council unanimously adopted Project Downtown, the master plan for Wichita. This blueprint has provided remarkable results.

Since 2010, we’ve witnessed more than $291 million invested in our downtown, 86 percent of which has been from the private sector. On average, $6 of private-sector investment has been made for every $1 of public sector investment. Last year, this ratio was $24 in private investment for every $1 of public investment. And more than $150 million will be invested with projects underway for 2015.

These results are receiving national recognition. It’s an exciting time to be involved in developing downtown, and a good time to reflect on where we’ve been, where we are, where we’re going.

▪  Where we’ve been. The research is clear that downtowns are critical to a region’s economic vitality. They’re also hard to rebuild, no matter the size of city. There are many reasons for this, but a primary one is that it’s much more expensive to retrofit older buildings.

Project Downtown’s vision, sound market economics, and clear and concise development policies are guiding Wichita in realizing its potential.

▪  Where we are. The recent “Fuel the Fire” lecture series noted the importance of having a vision for our downtown and region, and we, as a community, must be unwavering and committed to seeing it through to reality. As one speaker stated, “It’s the communities that invest in themselves that will succeed in the future.”

The upcoming year looks as exciting:

Last week, local developers broke ground on the $54 million Union Station project.

A new $24 million mixed-use development on the west bank of the Arkansas River, River Vista, will start construction.

The Knight Foundation generously funded a pop-up urban park for the Douglas Avenue “hole” as an innovative interim solution.

The $66 million Exchange Place project is on track to close the first of next year.

Refurbishment of the former Macy’s garage will be complete in the second quarter.

The Flats 324 will begin expansion on 60 ground-up residential units.

More people of all ages are living downtown, and the market potential for residential continues to be strong.

▪  Where we’re going. We must continue to be strategic about processes and decisions. We will and must do the collaborative work that takes sustained effort, intentional strategies and persistent patience. We must aggressively market our community and take pride in ourselves and our successes.

Businesses have choices of communities to invest in. People have choices where to live. National trends continue to demonstrate that vibrant downtowns are essential to a community’s future.

If we are to compete and have success, we must have a thriving city center and region.

Jeff Fluhr is president of Wichita Downtown Development Corp.