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New Policy Calls For Non-Binding Public Vote Before Wichita Can Demolish Century II, Former Library

Deborah Shaar
The city says it will call for an advisory election prior to the demolition of Century II or the adjacent former central library.

Wichitans will get a say in the future of Century II — it just won’t be the final say.

The City Council approved a policy Tuesday to hold an advisory election before possibly demolishing either the historic domed building or the neighboring former central library.

A plan for the redevelopment of the downtown riverfront recommends tearing down both. Council member Brandon Johnson represents the city on the Riverfront Legacy Master Plan coalition, and he says it was the intent to hold a public vote on the future of the two buildings.

"I have never been a part of any conversation with the private sector or my colleagues that said, 'Hey, we’re just gonna do it,'" Johnson said. "It’s always been how do we engage the public, how do we get more input, and then get a vote. That way folks can have their say at the ballot box on the future of the riverfront."

The coalition released its recommendation earlier this year before the COVID-19 pandemic stalled any action by the city or county. But if and when a public vote is held, the results would only be advisory.

The city says there’s no statutory basis to hold a binding vote on the issue. It is currently challenging a citizen group’s petition calling for a binding election on the future of Century II, the library and other prominent city-owned buildings.

"You want a binding vote or you want a non-binding vote?" asked John Todd with the group Save Century II. "The people say we want a vote. We, 17,265 people, signed that we want a binding vote. We want a say."

A judge heard oral arguments over the petition this week in district court. A decision is expected later this week.

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.