Group recommends building new performing arts center instead of renovating Century II

WICHITA, Kan. Century II's role as a performing arts center in Wichita could be numbered. Tuesday, the Century II Citizens Committee presented its final recommendation at a Wichita City workshop to build a new performing arts center instead of renovating Century II, a 50-year-old building in need of extensive repairs.

The bottom line for its recommendation is cost, Century II Citizen Committee chairwoman Mary Beth Jarvis says. She says renovating Century II would cost about $252 million, "significantly higher" than building a new facility. The current estimate for a new performing arts center is about $155 million, Jarvis says. This doesn't include about $20 million for parking and an undetermined amount for site development.

Jarvis says citizens have made it clear they want "arts and culture to thrive" in Wichita and says continued small improvements are no longer an option. The committee recommends building a new facility in the general area of Century II.

For now, Mayor Jeff Longwell says, it's the committee's belief that they should keep Century II standing. And while the committee made its case for building a new performing arts center, many are adamant about keeping Century II's iconic blue roof as part of Wichita's skyline.

One concern expressed by Longwell Tuesday is the recommended timeline of 60 days to get a request for proposal on a site and concept development for a new facility. He says he doesn't know how this can be done in only two months.

Following the committee's recommendation Tuesday, tenants of Century II including Music Theatre of Wichita, the Wichita Symphony Orchestra and the Wichita Grand Opera expressed support for building a new performing arts center.

“We applaud the committee’s service and careful study of the complex issues surrounding Century II. We are hopeful that plans for a new building will move forward, and eagerly anticipate being part of the decision-making process to ensure that the needs of Wichita’s performing arts community are met," says Producing Artistic Director of Music Theatre Wichita Wayne Brian.

One concern expressed by the tenants is the possibility of not being able to operate through construction of a new facility.

“I’ve seen it happen in other communities I’ve worked in. An arts organization closes or gets moved to a ‘temporary,’ subpar location for one to three years, and when they come back the public has moved on. At best, renovation would create a tremendous uphill battle for tenants upon return to the Concert Hall," says CEO of the Wichita Symphony, Don Reinhold.

Jarvis acknowledged the concern saying Century II should remain in use until a new facility opens.

Another concern the Century II tenants expressed is about the urgency to build a new performing arts center and the possible elimination of Century II's parking for patrons.

Despite the concerns, the tenants say they "firmly believe today's citizens have the chance to create a truly iconic PAC (performing arts center) that will also meet and anticipate the community's needs for decades to come."

"After singing in top performance venues all over the world, I know that a first-rate performing arts center can have a transformative impact on a community. I look forward to actively helping see a vision for a new, world-class performing arts center come to fruition in Wichita," says Wichita Grand Opera Artistic Director and international opera star Alan Held.