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City of Wichita considers option to privatize Century II operations

Published: Jul. 21, 2020 at 3:41 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - An option under consideration by the City of Wichita could save some money while shifting responsibilities with a half-century-old performing arts facility that is a staple of the city’s skyline looking over downtown.

A highlight of a money-saving proposal is the privatization of Century II’s operations. The city said this will reduce the venue’s annual subsidy by more than $2 million to help balance the city’s budget.

If its proposed budget passes, the City of Wichita would still own Century II, but a private company would be responsible for its day-to-day operations, Wichita City Manager Robert Layton said. Layton said Century II’s use is limited by COVID-19, which is ultimately why talks of privatizing the venue’s operations surfaced.

This comes with an economic challenge in Wichita where the city projects a revenue shortfall of $11.5 million this year, $17 million next year, and more than $21 million in 2022. Layton said.

“If we’re able to change our operations, use industry best practice, and have someone who is comfortable and familiar with the convention center operations, we think they can bring efficiencies and reduce the number of subsidies the city puts into that facility,” he said.

Advocates with “Save Century II” say putting the responsibility to upkeep Century II in the hands of a private operator has them concerned about the venue’s future.

“It will actually take control of Century II away from oversight of the citizens, and put in a company that may want to run it down even further, destroy the building, sell it for a dollar. No telling what would happen if it gets out of citizens’ oversight,” said Celeste Racette with Save Century II.

Instead of privatizing Century II’s operations, Racette said she’d like to see Wichita Mayor Brandon Whipple form a citizen’s advisory board of people with experience in applying for historic tax credits and grants. That way, she said, Century II can get the repairs and renovations it’s needed for years without burdening local taxpayers.

The Wichita City Council during its discussion Tuesday did not take any formal action regarding Century II or its budget. the council will have two more public hearings on Aug. 4 and Aug. 11. After that, the council will vote on finalizing next year’s budget and with that, make its decision whether to not to privatize operations at Century II.

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