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Coalition Recommends More Green Space, No Century II Along East Riverfront

Populous and Olin

A new performing arts center. Twelve acres of green space. And no Century II.

Those are among the recommendations put forth by the coalition of community groups that’s been crafting a plan for Wichita’s downtown east riverbank for the past year. Members from the team that designed the plan presented it Tuesday night at an open house at Newman University.

The plan from the design firm Populous, the coalition says, incorporates past riverfront plans and studies, as well as public input gathered over several months.

“Our goal as a coalition was to gather input, to think about these community assets as a whole, the whole 55 acres that we have there along the river, and what could it look like if we think long range in the future for Wichita,” said Jon Rolph with the Greater Wichita Partnership, one of the members of the coalition.

Credit Populous and Olin

The Riverfront Legacy Master Plan features 17 capital projects, including a new performing arts center at Williams and Main, and a new convention center just south of it; extensive green space and a riverfront park; funding for parks and programming; a pedestrian bridge connecting the two sides of the river, and several mixed-use buildings.

The coalition estimates the total price tag to be between $1 billion and $1.2 billion, paid for through public, private and philanthropic investments. The biggest item would be the $421 million convention center. About $330 million would go toward green space, $220 million toward infrastructure and $187 million toward the new performing arts center.

The coalition recommends half of the public funding come from a city or county sales tax, along with other mechanisms such as Tax Increment Financing, Sales Tax Revenue (STAR) Bonds, general obligation bonds and a Community Improvement District.

“There’s a cost no matter what we do on this,” Rolph said.

Work would be phased in over the next decade — or more. The first five years will see the performing arts center and a new garage for the Hyatt Hotel, initial work on the riverfront park, and the demolition of the old Central Library.

Century II would come down in the next five or so years after that. There’s currently a grassroots effort to save the 50-year-old building from demolition, including a push to have it recognized as a historic site and a petition to get the question of its future on a public ballot.

Wichitans will have time to weigh in on the riverfront coaltion’s recommendation before a “final final” plan goes before the Wichita City Council and the Sedgwick County Commission for a vote, Rolph says. The city and county contributed $100,000 each to the Riverfront Legacy Master Plan process.

After that, he says, it's up to elected officials and residents to implement the plan, if it's adopted.

"Really, this becomes the community's to activate after this and to decide when we want to move forward, and where we want to go," he says.

Nadya Faulx is KMUW's Digital News Editor and Reporter, which means she splits her time between working on-air and working online, managing news on KMUW.org, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. She joined KMUW in 2015 after working for a newspaper in western North Dakota. Before that she was a diversity intern at NPR in Washington, D.C.