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Music Theatre Wichita Watching Closely As City Considers Century II Recommendations

Deborah Shaar

A community engagement process will begin this fall on preliminary plans for the future of Century II in downtown Wichita.

City leaders are recommending expanding and renovating Century II instead of building new facilities.

Four arts organizations are based at the blue domed performing arts center: Music Theatre Wichita, the Wichita Symphony Orchestra, Wichita Grand Opera and Music Theatre for Young People.

Over the years, they’ve adapted and adjusted to the unique circular building and its functional limitations.

Music Theatre Wichita Producing Artistic Director Wayne Bryan says the new recommendations are just preliminary.

"We don’t know what’s going to happen," Wayne says. "This is just a first pass. We have a lot to think about. Take each step as it comes."

The nonprofit theatre company has been creating and staging its Broadway-style productions at Century II since 1972. Bryan says the theatre company has grown and so has its budget, going from about $800,000 in 1988 to $4.1 million today.

"I hope everybody in Wichita is proud of what we’ve been able to do in that building," Wayne says. "But that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t be delighted to see improvements or changes in the future."

Wichita City Manager Robert Layton based the remodeling recommendations on a consultant’s report that studied financing and design options.

He called it an affordable way to reduce Century II’s ongoing operational deficit and to make the venue more competitive for convention and performing arts business.

"I do think it’s the plan that we can eventually afford and be able to move forward and I think maybe get out of that paralysis that we’ve had because of the scope and magnitude of this issue that we faced in the past," Layton says.

The city paid nearly $300,000 for California-based Arup Advisory Inc. to analyze financing, operational and development options for the city’s 48-year old convention and performing arts center.

The city and consultant agree that the convention center should be improved and privately operated. Century II has been running an operational deficit since at least 1999, and has been losing convention business to other nearby cities.

Arup also recommends separating the convention center and performing arts operations.

Layton says the city would take care of priority maintenance issues with the aging building before renovations would begin. For example, the blue dome roof is beyond its expected life span and the HVAC equipment on the roof of the expo hall is rusted and more than 20 years old.

Other recommendations include developing a long term funding plan with naming rights and selling city-owned property adjacent to the Century II complex.

The city’s preliminary recommendations for Century II came at a city council workshop on Tuesday night.

Layton says an independent third party will the community engagement process to ensure neutral framing of the issue. It is expected to begin this fall.


Follow Deborah Shaar on Twitter @deborahshaar

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