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Coalition Member Says 'The Time Is Now' For City To Move On New Riverfront Plan

Populous and Olin

The newest plan to redevelop the river corridor in downtown Wichita was released this week.

The mammoth billion dollar plan includes new performing arts and convention centers, more green space along the east bank of the river and a pedestrian bridge connecting to the west bank and new baseball stadium.

The plan does not include a future for Century II, which would be demolished as part of the plan, which is expected to take more than a decade to complete.

Darryl Kelly is a member of the Riverfront Legacy Master Plan coalition as part of his role with W, Wichita's young professionals group. The coalition guided the planning process.

The day after the plan was unveiled to the public, Kelly sat down with KMUW's Tom Shine to talk about the plan, how it will be financed and why it’s necessary for Wichita to move forward on it.

Interview Highlights

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Tom Shine: So the new riverfront plan is out. Give me two or three specific things that you really like.

Darryl Kelly: So I think the things that I like most about the plan are Populous (the design group) did exactly what we asked them to do. … They added 12 more acres of green and park space. That is what the citizens of Wichita and people around the region said that they wanted.

I'm also excited about the mixed-use development. I think that's a key component to what we're doing. Because you want businesses, you want entrepreneurs, you want young, talented people to be able to come and use that space to live, work, play and (be) entertained. So I think that … mixed-use development … just allows us to springboard off into new economic development, new growth, in our downtown urban core. And I think that's really exciting.

Credit wyoungpros.com
Darryl Kelly

The overall price tag for the entire project, which is going to last for some number of years, is about a billion dollars. The price tag give you pause?

No sir. So, what I think you said is the key word: It's over a period of time. So when we look at a billion, $1.2 billion over a 10- to 15-year period, that's definitely something that's attainable and achievable that we can do here in the city.

We're about a week out from layoffs at Spirit, and there's still the possibility of more to come there. Is this the best time to move forward on a really ambitious, and expensive, project downtown?

We definitely empathize and feel for all the folks that are affected by Spirit. Not just the folks that were laid off, but folks down the pipeline … retailers and restaurants and all that. But I think this is the time to lean in. We have to continue to think of ways to diversify our economy. We definitely have to think big, and we're talking about this plan is 10, 15, 20 years down the road. So we can't wait until … all the cards are just right on the table for us to act and move. So I think this is the time to lean in and press forward.

My guess is we've not heard the last from the Save Century II folks. What would you say to them about the plan?

The Riverfront coalition is not an advocacy group. We're mainly educational and being a catalyst to push the conversation forward. … We support people speaking up and giving their voice; we have no problem with that. What we do want to make sure that we're doing is having a constructive conversation. So all the information data (and) analysis that has been done has shown that we are kind of status quo right now and that's unacceptable because we deserve better. I know I want my kids and my grandkids to have better. So we want to lean into this conversation and push it to a point because we've done the studies over the years and the research has not changed.

So, in addition to the plan that was released this week, we have a major development already underway on the West Bank. Can the Wichita area sustain the businesses on both sides of the river?

That's the importance of doing this master plan because this master plan has to be done in consideration with things that are going on around the rest of the city.

So all the information has been coordinated around making sure that we are being very considerate of the things that are going on on the West Bank with the … baseball stadium and the development on that side of the river. So we are really excited about the possibilities.

Some of the funding for this project is going to come from a sales tax. Should that be a city-only sales tax or should that be county-wide?

I think all options are on the table. There are a plethora of funding mechanisms that we can use at different points to continue this endeavor. And so all the options need to be on the table so we can have basically all the tools in our toolbox to pull the levers as we need to. So we look at philanthropy, private investment, bonding, special financing, district sales tax, tax grants.

So honestly, to me, financing … we can figure that out pretty easy. I think we had to really get over the hurdle, the perception that we couldn't do something big. … And now that we've kind of seen the possibilities, I really think we'll continue to get the momentum that we need to carry this forward.

So the plan is out. What's next?

So what's next is we continue to work with the City Council, the county commissioners, the arts districts and planning commissions. We continue to engage groups to make sure that we're continuing to receive feedback off of the plan that was proposed last evening. And then we provide that information to Populous. And then in February they'll come back with a final plan and that'll be presented to our city and county leaders.

Is there anything else you would like to mention?

A Chinese proverb that was shared to me by a co-worker: The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is today. And so the question that I pose to everyone is, ‘What are we waiting for?’ The time is now to make the impact in our community to attract, retain and develop young professional talent.

We're just so excited about the possibilities that strengthening the core of our city can do for the rest of our city. … The backbone of this is definitely, of course, economic development … but we’ve got to stop bleeding out our talent. We are losing people left and right to other cities that quite frankly aren't as good as Wichita. And so we need to show the investment in our youth and our future. We need to show that now.

Tom Shine is director of news and public affairs at KMUW. Follow him on Twitter@thomaspshine.

Tom joined KMUW in 2017 after spending 37 years with The Wichita Eagle where he held a variety of reporting and editing roles. He also is host of The Range, KMUW’s weekly show about where we live and the people who live here. Tom is an adjunct instructor in the Elliott School of Communication at Wichita State University.