2020

New decade, new vision

Written by Karen Long

Welcome to 2020, the year imagined in movies from “Mission to Mars” to “Godzilla: Final Wars,” not to mention a few episodes of “Doctor Who.” While we’re still waiting for our Mars colony, the Wichita landscape is rapidly evolving into something that city planners hope future generations will be proud to inhabit. And hey, At SPLURGE! we love dining, shopping and playing, and are eagerly anticipating more fun ways to do just that.

A new mayor

At the end of last year, voters said they wanted new leadership for a new decade, and voted in Brandon Whipple. The mayor-elect ran on a promise of transparency and inclusion with an emphasis on neighborhood services, small business, higher education and a stronger police force. Whipple was the underdog in the campaign and, while young at age 37, he brings experience as a Kansas legislator and holds a Ph.D. in leadership studies from Franklin Pierce University. He’ll take the oath of office 13 days into the new decade and set the tone for our city in the 2020s.

Minor-league baseball and Ballpark Village

Stadium construction on the west bank of the Arkansas River is sliding into its final months and on April 14, 2020, the Wichita Wind Surge will play their inaugural game against the Memphis Redbirds. Plans are underway for a surrounding Ballpark Village complete with a scene of bustling entertainment, bars, eating establishments, and living and working space, all connected to the riverfront corridor. Managing partner Lou Schwechheimer has promised ticket prices for ball games will top out at $15, making an afternoon or evening on the riverbank the perfect outing for families — and everyone else — from across the region. A new pedestrian bridge spanning the river and linking the east and west bank is a part of the design, with the exact location to be determined once plans for the east bank are firmed up.

The riverfront

For our city to continue growing into the 2020s and beyond, everyone agrees that we need a modern and expanded convention center and performing arts center. Exactly what that might look like, however, is currently a matter of intense discussion.

“I’ve been excited to hear the community’s vision which includes vibrant, distinctive and engaging green space and places for people to gather and connect to the river,” says Jeff Fluhr, president of Greater Wichita Partnership and Downtown Wichita. “The goal of the Riverfront Legacy Master Planning process is to derive an aspirational design that truly creates a signature riverfront for our community and region.”

Downtown Wichita, Greater Wichita Partnership and several other organizations worked with a consulting firm to produce the Riverfront Legacy Master Plan, including five design scenarios envisioning the future of the east bank. All five preliminary concepts include a new convention center plus a separate performing arts center. Where the plans differ, and what has become a point of contention, is whether the iconic, blue-domed silhouette of Century II remains a central feature of the cityscape.

Three of the five scenarios remove Century II altogether, one retains its metal scaffolding as a park feature, and only one imagines repurposing the building, without fleshing out further details.

The consultants will produce a final recommendation this month for presentation to the City Council. Whichever scenario becomes the final design, should one of them be approved the east bank will be substantially reshaped in coming years, with the current Expo Hall removed and possibly the former library as well. Some configuration of new, modern convention center and performing arts center plus mixed-use buildings will transform the acres between Douglas and Kellogg, along with plenty of open green space to lure citizens and visitors to the city center and riverbank. View the five proposed scenarios for yourself at riverfrontlegacywichita.org.

Downtown

The new decade will see the culmination of several anchor downtown development projects that were years in the making, including Union Station, the Spaghetti Works District and the redesign of Naftzger Park.

Last fall Jenny Dawn Cellars opened an urban winery, tasting room and event venue on the southern end of the Union Station campus. There’s still space available for other companies to join Faneuil in the grand, historic terminal building, square footage which could be turned into shops, restaurants or office space. Now phase three kicks off with the addition of a parking garage. Construction is also underway on the Icehouse, the newest addition to the Union Station campus. The former ice warehouse will become chill new office space sometime in mid-2020.

Tenants are also moving into the Spaghetti Works District at the corner of Douglas and St. Francis: Martin Pringle settled in last fall, and in December HomeGrown Wichita opened their doors with a view onto the completely re-landscaped Naftzger Park. By the time you read this, the park should be open for everything from snowy strolls to spring picnics to outdoor summer events. City planners imagine this corner, along with Union Station, forming a connection between Old Town and the Arena District, making a walk from eating and drinking venues to a concert at Intrust Bank Arena a lively urban experience.

“People can feel the momentum and we are looking forward to that momentum increasing.” — Jeff Fluhr, president of Greater Wichita Partnership and Downtown Wichita

Among the slate of new projects ramping up in 2020, Fluhr is hard-pressed to pick the one he’s most anticipating.

“There are so many I could name because private investment continues to increase,” he says. “It has been especially exciting to see one of the largest cranes yet downtown with the Fidelity Bank expansion, and then one block away, the Kansas Health Science Center is redeveloping four different buildings.”

Fidelity Bank’s new 10-story tower will be a prominent addition to the Wichita skyline, eventually replacing the towering crane now hovering over downtown. The first phase of the project is a block-long private car park with space for offices or retail shopping on the ground floor, which is already well underway.

In a complex made up of four renovated, historic buildings one block south of Douglas, the Kansas Health Science Center proposes to train future doctors of osteopathy in a comprehensive and tech savvy complex, which will include student housing, a food hall and culinary school, and a hotel. Work is now transitioning from preliminary demolition into the next phases of construction.

View an interactive map of the sites for all of these downtown developments, and many more, at downtownwichita.org.

Clean water

No matter where in town we’re working, dining or playing in the ‘20s, one thing’s for sure: We can rely on an abundance of pure, clean water. The Northwest Water Facility, a new, state-of-the art water treatment plant planned at 21st and Hoover, is scheduled to break ground in late 2020. According to their website at wichitawaterworks.com, the facility “looks far into the future and anticipates serving the next several generations.” The old treatment plant lasted 80 years, so we’ll check back in the year 2100 for an update.

“People can feel the momentum and we are looking forward to that momentum increasing,” says Fluhr. “It takes everyone working together to create the environment where a region grows, and now is the time to lean into that momentum and growth. It’s an exciting time to live here and be part of creating Wichita’s next chapter of development.”

 
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