As regular readers of this column know, parks mean a lot to me.
The longest opinion piece I’ve ever written, and the only one to appear on page one, was a lengthy critique of Wichita’s treatment of its parks and recreational properties over the past few years. Anyway, in my opinion, it’s a path that has taken too much from the public realm and put it into the hands of private commercial interests.
But I’m not an absolutist. In some cases, park assets can also be used to improve communities.
Last week, the Wichita City Council signed a deal to sell one-third of an acre of parkland to the Wichita Hyatt Regency Hotel, which is owned by casino magnate Phil Ruffin, to expand the hotel’s meeting and ballrooms. Good move.
I was somewhat skeptical of this deal when I read the staff reports. It was written that due to the lack of road access, no one other than Hyatt could access the property and the deal could be done without a competitive bid. That’s kind of true, but with a little tweaking of the property line, it would be accessible from South Waco, between Century II and the Arkansas River.
I had a long talk with Mayor Robert Layton and thought that this deal would probably benefit the city as well as the Hyatt.
First, Layton insisted on selling the property for $217,450, a fair market value determined by an independent valuation.
Second, the money from the sale of the land will be allocated to improving the rest of the park from which it is being cut, A. Price Woodard Park.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, after years of back and forth over whether a land sale for Hyatt’s expansion should begin with the Century II Convention and Performing Arts Center demolished, It finally shows that the city is serious about improving the Century II Convention and Performing Arts Center. that’s all.
The change of course represents a loss of $700,000 spent on developing the Riverfront Legacy Master Plan. This includes $200,000 in city and county funds.
The proposal to demolish Century II and the downtown library to build a new convention and performing arts facility was ambitious, but met with strong public opposition and the COVID-19 pandemic almost relegated it to history. .
In a way, we’re lucky it didn’t cost us as much as it did.
The pandemic has changed the convention business, perhaps forever. Most conventions are now offered in a hybrid live/online format.
Large in-person gatherings are much rarer than they used to be, and competition is fierce. If Wichita had embarked on his plans for his $1.2 billion mastership before 2020, we would have built a ton of convention space, and we could have made less of it. I have.
The plan is now expected to return more or less to what Layton proposed in 2017.
This may fix some of the Century II’s shortcomings, such as low ceilings and inadequate loading docks for modern shows. Hyatt’s new space offers additional convention space when needed.
The Brown Arena is basically just a concrete box with no architectural significance, and the city can pretty much do whatever it wants there. Even the Save Century II group doesn’t care.
The City Council will evaluate its options this winter. I look forward to seeing what they come up with.
This story was originally published December 10, 2022 at 6:00 AM.