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Committee Recommends Building New Performing Arts Center For Wichita

LaRissa Lawrie
KMUW/File photo
City leaders acknowledged in recent years that something needs to be done about Century II's lingering structural, safety and functionality issues.

A city-appointed committee is recommending that Wichita build a new performing arts facility instead of renovating Century II.

The Century II Citizens Advisory Committee spent the past year talking to experts, reviewing research and getting input from the public. The committee presented its findings and recommendations to Wichita city leaders Tuesday.

Committee chair Mary Beth Jarvis said building a distinctive arts center near the east riverfront between Kellogg and Douglas is the most cost-effective project that will get public support.

“Fundamentally, we believe this is clear, executable, bold and the lowest cost path forward," she said, "and we believe it’s the right solution for our community for future generations."

The committee is not recommending tearing down the 50-year-old iconic blue-domed Century II building. Jarvis says Century II could be renovated for other uses, and the land around it could be developed.

“That has the potential to be a public gathering space that is engaging, that is game-changing for how we come together as a community, and how families can interact downtown year-round and when we have events,” she said.

Building a new facility means arts groups based at Century II would be able to continue operations seamlessly. Music Theatre Wichita, the Wichita Symphony Orchestra, Wichita Grand Opera and Music Theatre for Young People are long-term tenants.

Wayne Bryan, producing artistic director of Music Theatre Wichita, supports the committee’s recommendation to build a new arts center.

“We applaud the committee’s service and careful study of the complex issues surrounding Century II," Bryan said in a news release. "We are hopeful that plans for a new building will move forward, and eagerly anticipate being part of the decision-making process to ensure that the needs of Wichita’s performing arts community are met."

The recommendations call on the city to move forward with the project immediately. Jarvis says the city should issue a Request for Proosals (RFP) within 60 days to find a team for site selection and design work.

“The proposed design should be customized to the area, to our community and done with distinction and excellence," Jarvis said. "We want to be included in that process of site analysis and design of the facility to be an analysis of alternative uses for Century II."

Jarvis says a new arts center with parking could cost about $175 million depending on design and amenities.

The committee recommends a voter referendum in spring 2020 to secure public financing for the project.

Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell says he appreciates the committee's recommendations but isn't sure the city can meet the timetable.

He says cost estimates for Century II renovations still need to be completed.

The committee, made up of 12 volunteers representing business, civic and arts organizations, was appointed to come up with the best path forward on design and financing options for Century II’s performing arts venue — not the convention expo hall.

The committee determined that Century II has extensive structural, safety and functionality issues that limit its capabilities and would be expensive to bring up to modern standards.

Jarvis says public support for a new arts center instead of Century II renovations was a substantial factor in the committee’s recommendations.

“They are interested in a structure that can be a significant addition to Wichita’s skyline, an excellent example of prideworthy community investment and forward thinking that fundamentally includes within it the modern capabilities that we need,” she said.

City leaders have been discussing the future of Century II for more than 10 years. The city hired a consultant in 2017 to study design and financing options. Based on the consultant’s report, city leaders recommended expanding Century II’s convention space and extensively renovating the building so it could remain a performing arts venue.

Follow Deborah Shaar on Twitter @deborahshaar. To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at news@kmuw.org.

Deborah joined the news team at KMUW in September 2014 as a news reporter. She spent more than a dozen years working in news at both public and commercial radio and television stations in Ohio, West Virginia and Detroit, Michigan. Before relocating to Wichita in 2013, Deborah taught news and broadcasting classes at Tarrant County College in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas area.