Implemented as part of the bi-partisan Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, Opportunity Zones were designed to serve as a catalyst for development in underserved areas by offering significant tax breaks and credits to the project owner.
Unlike many federal programs, city officials were allowed to select areas to benefit from the program by designating them Opportunity Zones.
Based on the program’s concept of helping to revitalize underserved and low-income communities, you would have thought that Wichita’s core Black community would have received an Opportunity Zone designation.
Instead, the zones are uniquely carved out to benefit some of the city’s business centers.
Wichita State University, an area surrounded by the city’s Black community, was carved out as an Opportunity Zone along with the land to the south — an area that had already been identified by developers for expansion of student housing.
That zone curves around the Redbud Trail and south, picking up Wesley Hospital and the medical core at Central and Hillside, but does not go a few blocks west to include the Black community between Hillside and the canal route or the community north or east of the university.
The McAdams area, a historic Black community, was the only core Black area included as an Opportunity Zone, probably because of its close proximity to Via Christi Ascension Hospital and the North Broadway corridor.
Other designated Opportunity Zones are downtown Wichita, the South Broadway corridor, with a southern zone that includes Ascension St. Joseph Hospital.
If the thought was that improvement in these areas would flow to and benefit the surrounding truly underserved communities, the WSU project – as well as other Opportunity Zone projects across the nation – have proved, the outward flow doesn’t work.
Opportunity Zones are benefitting the commercial establishments at their center, but the developers are not stepping beyond the zones, with their cushy tax credits, to invest in or uplift nearby communities.