Suzanne Perez Tobias

Attention, ‘Bitchitans’: Speak up now on Century II and Wichita’s riverbank

This year’s Gridiron show — an annual news parody produced by local journalists, including me — featured a skit titled “The Bitchitans,” in which a fictional Wichita family complains about nearly everything around this city:

Traffic. Parking. River Festival. Public art. Flimsy popcorn bags.

It’s funny ‘cause it’s true.

Some Wichita residents make bellyaching an art form, grousing non-stop about anything and everything. (See also: electric scooters, fireworks, road construction.) To watch it in action, scan Twitter or Facebook, eavesdrop at a bar, or read the comments on The Eagle’s website.

So when city leaders say they want public opinion on an important topic, you’d think most folks would be eager to share.

That’s not always the case.

Starting Wednesday at the Wichita Boathouse, a coalition of city leaders, community boosters and well-paid consultants will begin asking members of the general public about their vision for the east bank of the Arkansas River downtown.

Among the potential questions: Should Wichita build a new performing arts center? A new convention center? If so, how should we pay for it? Should we raze or remodel Century II?

What else should happen with that east bank corridor, from Kellogg to Douglas and the river to Main Street, which includes Century II, WaterWalk and the old downtown library?

Wednesday’s open house — 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the Boathouse, 515 S. Wichita — is a chance for members of the public to share their thoughts about that crucial portion of downtown property. So it’s vital that members of the public participate.

This isn’t the first time city leaders have solicited opinions on Century II or the riverbank. Between Project Wichita, a Century II advisory committee and numerous other cost-benefit surveys, you could say it’s been studied to death.

But they’re asking again — this time committing $200,000 of public money to the Riverfront Legacy Master Plan process. A coalition of private companies reportedly is paying the rest of the estimated $700,000 cost.

Wednesday’s session will feature a team from Populous, a global architectural and design firm, along with representatives from RCLSO Real Estate Advisors and Olin Design, who will provide an overview of what to expect as the plan comes together.

If city leaders are serious about gauging public sentiment, they should recognize that not everyone can (or wants to) attend a Wednesday afternoon public meeting. An online input form might help, but organizers also should try to ensure that the listening process gathers more than the same-old-same-old.

And if Bitchitans — er, I mean Wichitans — are serious about wanting a better city, they should share their opinions. Don’t stew in silence now and squawk later.

Suzanne Perez Tobias is a columnist and member of The Eagle’s editorial board. During her nearly 30 years at the newspaper, she has covered breaking news, education, local government and other topics. An avid reader, Suzanne also oversees The Eagle’s books coverage and coordinates the annual #ReadICT Challenge. She can be reached at 316-268-6567.