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Century II Preservation Advocates Pushing For Repurposing Round Building

Deborah Shaar
Century II opened in 1969 to replace the old Forum. The Bob Brown Expo Hall was added in 1986.

Organizers with the group “Save Century II” support a city of Wichita recommendation to build a new performing arts center. They also say there is an opportunity to preserve the blue-domed round building.

Greg Kite with the Historic Preservation Alliance and community arts supporter Celeste Racette started the campaign to bring awareness of the historical value of Century II, and to keep the process of determining the future of Century II open to the public.

"This is a unique structure that was specifically built for Wichita with its ties to the native American Indians," Racette says. "Why would we want to destroy it?" 

Related: Wichita Rules Out Renovating Century II For Performing Arts

The city has not yet announced plans for what’s next for the 50-year-old Century II convention and performing arts center. A community debate about whether to renovate or replace Century II began more than a decade ago.

Credit Deborah Shaar / KMUW
KMUW/File photo
The east bank of the Arkansas River in downtown Wichita.

A committee of business and civic leaders is developing a plan for the east riverfront that will include recommendations for the Century II complex. The plan, called the Riverfront Legacy Master Plan, is expected to be released in early 2020.

The city of Wichita delayed the process for a new convention center last year when the Riverfront Legacy Master Plan committee formed. The city also has not acted on a citizens advisory committee’s recommendation to build a new performing arts center.

City Manager Robert Layton says it made sense to hold off on Century II decisions until the riverfront plan was released, but recent engineering work has confirmed structural limitations with the venue and that a renovation project would be too costly.

Kite says a new facility for performing arts doesn’t have to mean an end to Century II.

“I don’t think that however contradicts the continued use and vibrancy of Century II,” Kite says.

Credit Deborah Shaar / KMUW
Celeste Racette and Greg Kite are organizers of the "Save Century II" campaign.

Kite says the “Save Century II” group is advocating for a three-phase approach to Century II: first, upgrade/update/renovate and perform maintenance on Century II; then, enlarge the convention center; and finally, build what he calls a “trophy” performing arts center.

"I think we may all be on the same page," he says. "I think it’s a matter of emphasis."

Racette says it’s important that the city finds alternative uses for Century II instead of demolishing the round building to make way for new development. She says even if a new performing arts center is built, Century II could remain for smaller theater productions, convention use or restaurants and retail.

"One would hope that the citizens would vote on the design plan just like they did in 1965 with approving whether or not to build Century II," Racette says.

Credit Deborah Shaar / KMUW
Wichita's former Central Library on Main Street closed in 2018 when the Advanced Learning Library opened. The Kansas Historical Society says the building is an excellent example of mid-century/Brutalist architecture.

Racette is trying to get Century II and the vacant former Central Library listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the Register of Historic Kansas Places. The Kansas Historical Society determined the buildings are potentially eligible and suggested Racette complete a nomination form for the properties.

Racette says gaining the historical designation would allow the city to take advantage of rehabilitation incentives to renovate and maintain the buildings.

“There are extensive renovation credits for historic buildings that can be obtained to renovate the building,” Racette says.

The next meeting of “Save Century II” is at 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 22 in the Mary Jane Teall Theater in Century II.

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