Happy new era

Written by Joe Stumpe

The first new main public library in more than 50 years.

The first new arts center in as long.

The first new housing on the river in decades, first big expansion in the aviation industry since the recession, first upscale steakhouse on the northwest side since…ever?

2018 is shaping up to be a year of big firsts in Wichita.

Advanced learning corner

The city's new $33 million library is expected to open this spring at 711 W. 2nd, replacing the current central library on Main Street. It'll have a slightly different name — the Advanced Learning Library — that reflects its mission.

"This is not the very quiet, passive library of the past," library director Cynthia Berner said. "This is really a community gathering, collaboration and learning space."

"We are excited about every part of it," Berner continued. "It's going to let us do a better job with the library services that people have traditionally thought of, and also let us enhance services and work in other areas that we believe will create great value."

The new library will have a 10,000-square-foot children's area — as large as the library's Westlink or Rockwell branches — plus a first-ever teens' section, 100 computers compared to the current main library's 30, a coffee shop operated by Reverie Coffee and several bigger spaces where groups can meet. Not to mention more scheduling flexibility and an outdoor terrace looking toward the Arkansas River.

The library's design will allow collections and exhibits to be grouped in a more logical and convenient way than in the past. "For example, we could have a health and wellness area, with cookbooks on healthy cooking, exercise and stress management all tighter," Berner said. "We can take a topic and cover several subject areas."

One thing that people will notice is that the bookshelves are shorter, meaning you won't need a ladder to reach the top shelf. The library will have its own dedicated parking — an issue at the current main library whenever nearby Century II holds events.

Berner noted that a new library has been in the works for a decade — a long wait, but one which improved the finished product. Then there's the scenic location, with the Exploration Place science museum as a neighbor. "It's just a great location, a great fit," she said. "A few years ago, a board member mentioned that the intersection of Second and Main was going to become the learning corner of Wichita. We love to think about it in that sense."

Making a mark

The new $19 million Mary R. Koch Arts Center at 1307 N. Rock Road opened with a New Year’s Eve party, replacing the former Wichita Center for the Arts built in 1965.

The new center features galleries, a great hall for events, nine studios for artists (compared to six previously and including a new digital studio), additional instructors, a kids space, gorgeous outside terrace and culinary arts kitchen.

“Interestingly enough,” said executive director Katy Dorrah, "To me, the thing I'm hearing the most excitement from our community on is the culinary arts kitchen. It's so different than anything people have experienced in our community. It is bringing a new demographic of arts lovers — those that appreciate the culinary arts. A lot of millennials really like it. It is a perfect date night or friends' night out."

Mark Arts has already booked numerous events for groups in the culinary kitchen and other spaces of the center. "It is getting booked and booked quickly," Dorrah said.

Also creating a buzz is the center's inaugural exhibition, which showcases artists from around the world who have ties to Kansas. "The three curators brought such a unique perspective to this show," Dorrah said. "I don't think Wichita has seen a show like this in many, many years.”

River synergy

The new River Vista apartments opening in 2018 feature about 200 units along the river at First and McLean. All have a view of the water. A place for River Vista residents and the public to rent bikes and paddle boats is planned, along with a fountain and other amenities.

"Getting people living along the river, I think that's going to be a major change," said Jayson Gregory, executive vice president of the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation. Noting that the Advanced Learning Library and an apartment project planned for the Delano neighborhood are nearby, Gregory said, "the synergy in that area, like the other end of Douglas, is really going to be transformational."

River Vista is just one of several major improvements coming online in 2018. The transformation of the Douglas Avenue railroad underpass is scheduled, Union Station's renovation will continue and several newly upgraded apartment buildings downtown should begin leasing. The biggest project of all — Cargill's new Wichita headquarters — won't quite be ready for occupancy this year. But much sprucing up of downtown streets should be finished in time for the NCAA Men's Tournament games taking place at Intrust Arena in March.

"We're planning to be a great host for a great event," Gregory said.

Airplanes and steak

In south Wichita, Spirit Aerosystems will start a major expansion of 1,000 jobs and $1 billion in capital investments over the next five years. Out east, a new Texas Roadhouse will surely drive even more people to the booming corner of Highway 96 and Greenwich.

And northwest Wichita will get perhaps the most upscale, locally-owned restaurant the area has ever seen — Brandon Steven's 6S Steakhouse, on west 21st street across from the Sedgwick County Zoo. Motorists who have been watching the transformation of the former Players restaurant into a sleek new concept can only imagine what the place holds food-wise.

"The ambiance is gorgeous," managing partner Seth Glassman said. "Our goal is to put out food and service to match that ambiance."

The restaurant features a bar, three private dining rooms and a patio overlooking water in addition to a traditional dining room. Glassman and chef Kayson Chong were lured from Los Angeles by Steven, thanks to what Glassman calls the latter's passion for creating a "classic American steakhouse."

But Glassman stressed that 6S is a place where kids and families are welcome.

"Just because it's nice, it's still approachable. We're not stuffy. I think we've created a place where you can ‘go big’ if you want to, but it can also be the place where you come in twice a week."

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