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Wichita City Council Votes To Privatize Management Of Century II


Century II will become privately managed by ASM Global – the company that currently manages INTRUST Bank Arena and the Orpheum Theatre, starting in 2022.

The Wichita City Council voted 5-2 to approve the privatization of the downtown performing arts and convention center at Tuesday’s meeting.

Wichita Mayor Brandon Whipple and councilmember Jeff Blubaugh voted against the plan.

Privatizing the center was expected as the council approved an annual budget that accounted for its privatization.

The city said the move will lead to better operations and management of the facility and save it money.

“I think this agreement is the best option for Century II as far as activating it, bringing more programming opportunities, bringing some life to the facility,” Vice Mayor Brandon Johnson said, after voicing concern for the facility’s current workers.

Nine full-time Century II employees and eight Public Works positions will be eliminated from the city’s budget in the deal, but the city said those employees can work for ASM Global.

Opponents of its privatization were concerned for those workers currently employed at Century II.

“…And I don’t think that having an outside management company come in and take over those positions is good for our city overall because it’s just more non-living-wage jobs,” Wichita union leader Esau Freeman said.

Opponents also criticized the transparency surrounding the process and future operations.

“How can you vote on this today? I heard numerous questions about the contract, I have numerous questions myself about the contract,” Celeste Racette, chairwoman of Save Century II, said. “How can you vote on this and make it effective in a week? That’s incredible … less than 24 hours to read this contract.”

The future of Century II has largely been up in the air for the past few years. Plans for the performing arts center have ranged from renovation to total demolition.

Council members assured opponents of the center’s privatization that the vote was not the nail in the coffin for the future of Century II.

“This is about approving an operating agreement for the management of Century II. This is not about the future of Century II,” Councilmember Becky Tuttle said. “This is about an operating agreement so that we can figure out how to best maintain the facility, best market the facility, let the community utilize the facility.”

According to the city, ASM Global was one of two firms to show interest in managing Century II, but was the only firm to submit a proposal earlier this year.

In the contract, the city agreed to give ASM Global $120,000 in a fixed fee each year, with an increase that could be up to 3% annually, as well as bonuses based off of the firm’s performance.

Over the next 10 years, the city is expected to spend $2.5 million on capital improvements to Century II, with ASM Global additionally pitching in $400,000.

Kylie Cameron (she/her) is a general assignment reporter for KMUW. Before KMUW, Kylie was a digital producer at KWCH, and served as editor in chief of The Sunflower at Wichita State. You can follow her on Twitter @bykyliecameron.