March 23, 2023

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Wichita approves $100,000 for Century II study

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The Wichita City Council in a 7-0 vote today approved spending $100,000 on a study called the Riverfront Legacy Master Plan, for recommendations on what should be done with Century II. The area included in the master plan covers Century II, the old central library, and the Hyatt hotel area. This is not the first study of it’s kind to look at design options for the city and Scott Knebel, the manager of downtown revitalization for the city, said as much.

“The scope of work is to review previous studies on this campus, as well as Waterwalk and update that market data,” said Knebel.

The Riverfront Legacy Master Plan is expected to cost $700,000. Wichita is putting in $100,000 and the same amount is being requested from Sedgwick County. The rest of the money is coming from a non-profit called Opportunity Wichita, which is an offshoot organization of the Greater Wichita partnership.

According to a report on the Council agenda, this public-private partnership, “allows the City to be a major part of the design and implementation of a catalytic development along the river.” According to the website for Kansas Appraisers, the land in question is owned by two parties, the City of Wichita, Ruffin Riverfront Hotel and the Waterwalk Development. Wichita is paying the $100,000 out of an existing fund.

“The city’s funding is available from the transient guest tax fund. And the recommendation is to authorize the funding of up to $100,000 from the transient guest tax for the riverfront legacy masterplan,” said Knebel.

Jim Korroch, a board member of Visit Wichita and commercial realtor specializing in the hospitality industry, spoke in favor of city spending the $100,000 for the plan. “The coalition sees this as a once in a generation opportunity to set a vision for the riverfront in a way that we can all be proud of. Not just Wichitans, but members of the community and region in general.”

The coalition Korroch referred to is a group of non-profits that want to see more development on the east bank. The non-profits include the Greater Wichita Partnership, Visit Wichita, The Wichita Community Foundation and the Wichita Chamber of Commerce. There was little said at the meeting regarding a specific vision for the area or how the development would be funded if it does happen. The premise put forth at the meeting is that with work underway on the west side of the river with the baseball stadium, it is time to redevelop the east bank.

“The plan is expected to connect with the work visibly underway today on the west bank. By building on previous work and investing in this plan we will be able to steward and maximize the value of the city and regions investment in this area over the past several years,” Korroch.

Mayor Jeff Longwell acknowledged the public will have a lot to say about Century II’s iconic look on the Wichita skyline; he said many studies have been done over the years and conceded the public may be burned out on consultants.

“I always worry a little bit that this community may have reached their appetite for bringing in consultants and we continue to bring in consultants often times when the community gets a little frustrated because I don’t think that fully understand the work that is being done.” Says Longwell.

What to do with Century II has been a point of contention for some time. In 2017 Bill Warren ran radio ads to save the structure. In March of this year, according to the Eagle a USD 258 school board member took the city to task for not maintaining the structure and wondering if developers will ultimately profit from any redevelopment. Now that the city authorized the money for the master plan to happen, the next step is a public meeting on July 31st. The coalition is still working out the details of when and where.

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