Vision For Downtown

Sunday, August 31 2008 12:58 AM

Mayor Carl Brewer

The Wichita City Council welcomes the recent community discussion regarding funding for projects around the downtown arena. This discussion creates an opportunity for our community to look at a much larger and more important question: What is our community vision for downtown and the surrounding core area?

That's an important question, because downtown is everyone's neighborhood. It's a community gathering place of restaurants, retailers, housing and entertainment.

The best cities across America understand that your downtown brands your community, for better or worse.

Cities with revitalized downtowns have a better chance of recruiting new business and attracting new jobs - thereby expanding the property-tax base and generating more sales tax.

No doubt, Wichita's downtown has made progress over the past two decades. In a piecemeal way, our community has used public dollars, private funds and partnerships to create Old Town, Old Town Square and other top-notch attractions.

These attractions have brought businesses, families, young people and tourists to the heart of our city. They also have enhanced our quality of life, increased our sense of community and lifted our collective pride. These successes should inspire us.

If we pause or retreat now from a community vision for downtown, we risk falling behind our peer cities in the region.

A Visioneering Wichita team that recently traveled to Oklahoma City and Fort Worth got an up-close look at our competition. Participants saw that Oklahoma City and Fort Worth revitalized their downtowns through tax initiati ves and private-public partnerships. They saw how a community is enhanced when residents, governments and businesses come together to fulfill a community vision.

So as we pause to further discuss funding for the Center City tax increment financing district, I'm asking that we focus more on our community vision than on our differences about any potential funding sources.

What do we want for downtown Wichita in the short and long term? What do we want for our young people, our families and our business partners? What do we want our visitors to experience when they come to Wichita?
The Center City redevelopment TIF is an attempt to help shape our community vision. It is designed to help fund streets, parking, landscaping and other basic improvements related to the downtown arena.
The expansion of the district makes sense. It strengthens the arena's connection to Old Town and the Wichita WaterWalk.

Sedgwick County has raised questions about the expansion of the TIF that need answers immediately, and we need to work together as a community to find those answers.

Here's what I'm asking for:
-- A renewed focus and solid support for the next phase of downtown revitalization.
-- A sense of urgency between the city and the county to resolve the funding issues for the Center City redevelopment area.
-- Public and private partners to help create specific projects and set aggressive timelines to complete them.
-- Measurable outcomes so that we can show our community that we fulfilled our community vision.
-- Government and business partners and community leaders to work toward that shared vision.
-- Media to help educate, inform and engage residents about our community vision.

Wichita, we can't be timid. We can no longer proceed in a piecemeal fashion to further revitalize downtown. We must spend public dollars to leverage private investment. Today's best cities and communities are thriving because they took bold steps forward.

Carl Brewer is mayor of Wichita. This commentary was drawn from a statement he read at Tuesday's Wichita City Council meeting.

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