Longwell seeks second term, leans on track record of spurring development


Khánh Nguyễn

Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell speaks at WSU Bike Share ribbon cutting ceremony. The event was held on March 6, 2019 in front of the RSC.

Wichita is once again an All-American City, according to the National Civic League. 

The award, which recognizes communities that address local issues through “civic engagement, collaboration, inclusiveness and innovation,” is the city’s first in 10 years.

As Mayor Jeff Longwell eyes a field of eight primary competitors, he said he hopes the momentum he’s seen building in Wichita will propel him to four more years at the helm.

“The first thing that happened that started providing some real momentum for Wichita was Cargill making the decision to build their headquarters here in Wichita,” Longwell said.

Months after Longwell was sworn in as mayor, Cargill announced they would move their protein division world headquarters from aging facilities in downtown Wichita. The agribusiness giant was courted by a number of cities, but Cargill elected to reinvest in Wichita to build their $70 million headquarters. 

“Ultimately, Cargill chose Wichita, which kind of started us on the path of that whole conversation, ‘why Wichita?’ where people started saying ‘why not Wichita?’” Longwell said.

He said Cargill’s renewed presence brought about a “whole different attitude” in Wichita, as Spirit has expanded its footprint and Wichita State’s Innovation Campus continues to grow on the back of public-private partnerships.

One of Longwell’s major achievements as mayor has been landing a Triple-A affiliated baseball franchise — the New Orleans Baby Cakes — for the city.

“No one thought that we would be able to pull that one off,” Longwell said.

He said a Triple-A team “totally changes the quality of life for Wichita” and is a valuable asset in recruiting talent.

To lure the Baby Cakes to Wichita, the city tore down Lawrence-Dumont Stadium and agreed to erect a new $75 million ballpark. It was only after the new stadium was already under construction that Longwell revealed the team wouldn’t move to Wichita unless the city approved a deal for them to develop riverfront land around the stadium at a price of $1 per acre.

Longwell said complaining about transparency is an easy out for detractors.

“When you ask people, ‘What does transparency look like?’ — it makes a good sound bite, but it’s difficult for people to say,” Longwell said.

“When you say transparency — we can never negotiate in what most people would be considering an open, transparent process because negotiations don’t lend themselves to that.”

He said his administration enters negotiations in good
faith with Wichita’s best interest at heart.

“If we’re trying to go after a company to move them to Wichita, you’re not going to negotiate openly in public,” Longwell said. “Because you don’t want all the other cities around the country to know what kind of package you’re putting together to bring them to Wichita.

He noted that votes on such projects always take place at open meetings where community members can ask questions and voice their concerns.

“Transparency’s nothing more than doing a better job of communications, but to say that you have to negotiate openly would basically eliminate your opportunity to negotiate with anyone,” Longwell said.

He said that in the next four years, Wichita will likely be shopping around for several other “big-ticket items.”

With Century II’s future up in the air, Wichita could be due for a new performing arts and convention center.

“I’ve got a track record of bringing some pretty big stuff to Wichita and teaming with others in the community that are equally excited to see Wichita grow,” Longwell said.

And the constant grind of running a city hasn’t burnt him out yet, he said.

“I still have pretty good health and a family that’s fully committed and supportive,” Longwell said. “There’s still work to be done.

“It’s really going to take tremendous focus and attention to continue to grow this next four years.”