A citizens committee is calling for the construction of a new performing arts center in Wichita, along with a look at alternative uses for the Century II Convention Center. The committee presented its report and recommendations during a city council workshop Tuesday.
Committee chair Mary Beth Jarvis said the current Century II has limitations and is not capable of meeting modern standards, and that’s having an affect on the productions that can come to the city. She said needs of patrons are not being served well and amenities that are commonplace in other markets can’t be executed in Century II.
Jarvis said the committee believes the right answer for performing arts in the community in the future is a new, distinctive, customized performing arts center and it belongs in the city’s core area. She said space just to the west of Century II could be a location for the new facility, but the committee doesn’t want to rule out other sites. She said the city should begin a process in the next 60 days for site selection and design work.
Jarvis said the committee is not recommending taking down Century II but the city should look at alternative uses for the building.
The committee is also calling for efforts for a public referendum in the spring of 2020 on funding a new performing arts facility and the city should maintain a citizens advisory committee through the process.
Jarvis said 3,500 citizens participated in a survey by the committee on the future of performing arts in the community, and she said the fundamental message from the survey is that the city needs to be thoughtful and strategic with the future in mind, and the city needs to move quickly. She said doing nothing and making small improvements in Century II are no longer options. Jarvis also said that with a new performing arts center, it will be important to engage the community to get feedback on the selection of a site and the design of a facility. She said people “are not interested in a gray box, they are interested in a structure that can be a signature addition to Wichita’s skyline, an excellent example of prideworthy community investment and forward thinking.”
Jarvis said building a new facility would be the most cost effective way to meet the future needs of performing arts, and it’s estimated that a new building would cost around $155 million with another $20 million for parking. She said a preliminary estimate for renovating Century II would be around $252 million.
Mayor Jeff Longwell said the city needs to be cautious in moving forward, because the cost of building a renovated Century II is not known yet. He said the city is working on that and he’s not sure the city can meet the committee’s recommended 60-day timeline because information is still being gathered that will be critically important to the community.
No decisions were made at the workshop and the council plans more discussions in the weeks ahead.