It was a great day in 2004 when James Arbertha finally cut the ribbon on the Save-a-lot grocery store at 13th and Grove. The Northeast Wichita area had been a food desert and even after two decades of trying, Arbertha, president of POWER CDC, never gave up on his vision to make a grocery store in the community a reality.
Financing the project wasn’t easy, but the final pieces came together with the support of the City of Wichita, who contributed $641,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds to the project.
Earlier this year, POWER CDC sold the grocery store to a business owned by the Rhodes family. The Rhodes, experienced grocers, had been operating the store since it opened; POWER CDC simply served as the store’s landlord.
Arbertha and POWER CDC had hoped the net proceeds from the sale could go towards the renovation of the historic Dunbar Theater, the organization’s latest project. However, the city says the money wasn’t a grant, but a loan, and they want their money back.
John Hall, director of Housing and Community Development for the City and District one City Council member Lavonta Williams have worked with Arbertha to come up with what they hope is a amicable solution, but it will require an amendment to the City’s Community Development Block Grant Budget. These are federal funds, which come with strict procedures that must be followed, among them is a required publication of a notice to let the citizens of Wichita know there is a planned change in the use of the funds. There are also requirements for a 30-day period for individuals to comment on the proposed changes, a hearing and a vote by the City Council.
A notice of the change in use of the funds is in this issue of The Community Voice and comments are currently being taken at email@example.com. The hearing is set for Tues., Nov. 21 during the Wichita City Council Meeting. The meetings begin at 9 a.m.
Arbertha and POWER CDC are encouraging people to come out in support of the proposed change. They want to make sure the money stays in District One. They recognize there are other groups who would love to get their hands on the funds.
This money would help get the project half way to the $5.4 million needed for construction of the first phase of the theater as outlined in a study completed recently by a New York consulting team. In addition to the $640,000, the City designated $250,000 from the sale of the Hyatt to go towards the to addition, the organization has been approved for $1.5 million of State Tax credits, which should net around $450,000 towards the project, said Hall.
If the City makes the funds available for use on the project, Hall says, they just won’t turn the money over to POWER CDC, the City will keep control of the funds, and working with a Dunbar Redevelopment Board, selected by the City Council, they will work to help move the project forward.
The first expense Hall would like to see come from the funds is 30,000 to bring in a fundraiser to help the organization raise the rest of the money needed for the project.
Use of the rest of the funds would be “phased in and performance based,” said Hall.
The Dunbar Theater opened in 1941 as a theater for African-Americans and stayed open until the late 50s. The building was located in what at the time was a thriving African-American business community and the surrounding community was home to some of the city’s more influential African-American residents.
A recent consultant study proposed reopening the theater as “The Dunbar,” similar to the Gem theater in the 18th and Vine district in Kansas City, MO. A smaller venue seating just 500, the facility would serve as a place for traveling acts who would attract smaller audience, with an identity as a place featuring unique cultural performances.