The City of Wichita’s new downtown plan for the development of 55-plus acres along the river in downtown Wichita has it all. The plan, rolled out earlier this month includes 17 major capital projects, including:
• New performing arts center
• New convention center to meet the changing needs of the convention industry and to generate income
• 12 acres of green space, including a new park along the riverfront
• Funding for programming and maintenance of parks
• New mixed-use components to drive economic growth
• New pedestrian bridge to connect the site to the new ballpark
“We heard clearly from the community about the importance of open green space and activation of the river and this plan reflects that,” said Amber Luther, planner and associate, from Populous global design firm, . “This space allows for 12 acres, creating a civic green in front of a new performing arts center and adjacent to a new convention center, as well as an enhanced waterfront and new parks at the south side of the property.”
The planned approach, allows the city to know where they’re going, but doesn’t mean all of the project would happen at once. The plan recommends projects for completion in 5 years, 10 years and 10 years-plus. But no matter how you stretch it out, the project comes with a big price tag.
Paying For It
It is estimated the plan would take $1 to $1.2 billion in investments. Some creative financing plans were discussed for the project, with the design team recommending about 50% of the public investments could be generated from a city or county sales tax.
A new survey shows voters overwhelmingly oppose a tax increase to pay for the Wichita riverfront development project. Perhaps even more intriguing, voters also don’t think the riverfront development is a high priority for city council members and the mayor. Instead their priorities are reducing spending and cutting taxes.
It’s a discussion reminiscent of 2014 when the city struggled with the decision to close the old Kansas Coliseum and replace it with the new state-of-the-art INTRUST Arena. There were those who found the old stadium adequate. Similarly, there’s the group that wants to hold on to Century II instead of replacing it with a state-of-the-art convention and performing arts centers.
Likewise, those who opposed pretty much opposed the 0.5 cent sales tax implemented to help pay for the arena. Interestingly, the only age group that said they supported paying higher taxes for the riverfront arena were those ages 18 to 34, the group mostly likely to be around long enough to use it.
Some of the other financing recommendations for at least part of the project includes:
Visitor taxes (hotel, rental car, etc.)
State and/or federal grants
Corporate donations and sponsorships
Land lease payments from private development
Other more creative but often used financing options which creatively use tax dollars include: STAR Bonds, Tax Increment Finance District and Community Improvement Districts.
If you’re not 18 to 34, what might you expect to live long enough to see along the river? The phased-in plan for the first three to five years includes:
1. Riverfront Park Phase 1
2. Sustainable Infrastructure Planning
3. Mixed-use on Waterman and Main St.
4. Demo Library
5. New Performing Arts Center
6. Mixed-use on Douglas and Main St.
7. New Hyatt Garage
8. Start Design of Convention Center
9. Complete Streets Phase 1
Obviously, no final decisions have been made, but stay closely tuned as the city council and even the Sedgwick County Commission starts to move forward on this $1 billion plan.