OPINION: Debating the fate of Century II

With Century II supporters fighting the Wichita Riverfront planners’ attempts to demolish the performing arts and convention center, Sunflower columnists Katie Smith and Brogan Gillmore debate the fate of the facility.


It’s my theatre, and I want it in town

Wichita needs to reconsider tearing down Century II.

Now, I understand that I am absolutely predisposed to thinking this – I’ve grown up here. My memories of going to shows, orchestra festivals, and seeing the blue roof in the skyline driving down Kellogg in our “terrible” 5 o’clock traffic are too fond.

So, for myself and many other native Wichitans, the nostalgia factor is too much to let the building go without a fight.

That being said, I’m not hanging on to it as the performing arts center it once was. I don’t think it should remain a performing arts center, but I also don’t think it should be torn down.

We have other theaters, even historic ones. No one would advocate to tear down the Orpheum or say that we should replace the Crown Uptown with a park. I strongly doubt even a Wichita State theatre student would deny that the Wilner Auditorium needs serious updating.

Isn’t that sort of Wichita’s shtick, though? We love to inject some sort of history into every building, and cover every open square foot with a bronze statue. We love that every “cool” part of town is made of the same, moderately unappealing-looking red bricks.

But it isn’t supposed to be appealing, it’s supposed to be ours.

Wichita is for the people who live here, not for the people who are trying hard to expand it and profit off of the river – which seems to be the main reason behind the Riverfront Legacy Master Plan, the name for the proposed plans of renovation.

My other issue is that any Wichitan, native, new, or passing through can tell you that we have a construction problem.

There always seems to be something being torn down, coned off, and going years past its estimated date of completion. With construction of the new stadium already blocking off large parts of downtown, it doesn’t feel like we need one more thing inconveniencing drivers and local businesses.

I say inconveniencing not because of the so-called iconic part of downtown, but rather because the proposed building plans aren’t just tearing down Century II. It’s making a large, connected complex of multiple buildings, parking garages, and business spaces.

Knowing Wichita construction crews, it might be done sometime in the next millenia.

If we want to make the area useful, then make it something that is useful for the people who live here.

Make it a better place for the middle school orchestra festivals and small conventions that come through.

Make the theatre kids from Kansas City thespian troupes jealous that we have a theatre so central to our city’s identity.

Make the travelling Broadway shows something we can actually go to, instead of dreading dealing with the poor conditions of the Mary Jane Teal Theatre.

But please, don’t try to make Century II something it is not.

Update the accessibility accommodations and renovate the expo hall. Remove the asbestos so we don’t have to see any Wichita-specific versions of that commercial we all love to hate.

No one is trying to say that Century II is the greatest venue. It’s not fora touring band, it’s forthe city to use to host its own events.

Our downtown district is our biggest claim to fame, and has been since the city has been around. Century II is at the heart of that area, it ties the area together in a nice little bow of what Wichita is about.

It may be a big blue ugly eyesore, but it’s our big blue ugly eyesore.

— Katie Smith


Century II ain’t it, Jack

Century II needs to be torn down.

I know that I’m going to get a lot of hate mail for this opinion — luckily, I don’t get on social media too often and good luck finding my reddit account — but it stands that the Century II building shouldn’t be standing.

Wichita needs a performing arts center, and Century II isn’t it.

The 200,000 square foot building opened in 1969 and was designed by John M. Hickman — who doesn’t even have his own Wikipedia page, so I’ll let you make your own assumptions from that. Hickman was a student of Frank Lloyd Wright in the late ‘40s, and the iconic blue-domed roof is done in Wright’s style.

Since its opening, Century II has been renovated and even had the Bob Brown Expo Hall installed in 1983, adding an additional 93,000 square feet to the facility.

What really matters is the fact that this 51-year-old structure does not function as a performing arts center — the purpose it was built for. Proponents for the building seem to forget that.

According to a 2017 analysis of the iconic building, it’s been running at a deficit since 1999. Now, I’m not a business guy but that sounds really bad, because for 20 years Century II has been making less money than it spends.

Lets also discuss the fact that we lose a lot of performances or make performers work around the fact that the facility can’t cater to the needs of a 21st century production.

Century II is like Henrion Hall in that regard, but, you know, less dilapidated.

And don’t even get me started on the Bob Brown Expo Hall, actually let me get started.

The interior sucks and looks like its from the ‘70s, but not like the cool fashionable ‘70s that reminds you of mustard yellow turtlenecks and denim, no, it’s like the sad crusty ‘70s of a nursing home.

I’m a nerd, I’ve been to a lot of comic conventions throughout the country, so I’ve seen a lot of convention centers and Century II’s expo hall is the worst: the lighting is poor, the layout confusing and the over-priced food is the quality of a high school concession stand.

The Bob Brown Expo Hall should be razed just for being an affront to aesthetic decency, and if you don’t think that’s a thing, then go on DeviantArt for five minutes.

The Century II doesn’t work, and it hasn’t for a while.

Its roof is iconic and interesting and gives the Wichita skyline something more than towering skyscrapers — not that we have many — but calling it a landmark because of its tenuous connection to Frank Lloyd Wright is like calling a Nick Cage movie a Coppola film.

Please don’t get me wrong, or any other person that wants to destroy the “historic” Century II, I would hate to see that location turned into business offices, apartments or something else most people can’t use. But the space could be put to better use.

Make it a green space with markers representing the Century II and the Forum, the previous performing arts building, incorporate the design into the new building, hollow it out and try to remake it into an amphitheater; but in its current state its Wichita’s appendix, and its bursting.

We shouldn’t destroy everything for the sake of progress; buildings that are architecturally significant, historically significant and can actually serve a function — even if that’s as a museum — should stay. The Century II has none of that, save for the kind of blue roof.

I can’t imagine Wichita without Century II, but I’m sure that’s what they said about the Forum 51 years ago.

Wichita is growing and it can’t be constrained as a big-small town anymore, the city is becoming a full-fledged metropolitan area. We have fantastic craft breweries, too many restaurants to pick from, pickleball — which I still don’t get — and a flag that is plastered everywhere. Now, what we need is a performing arts center and convention hall that can fit our city’s growing nature.

It sucks, but Century II needs to be torn down.

— Brogan Gillmore