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Center for Engagement and Community Development

K-State and Wichita Downtown Development Corporation collaborate to revitalize city center

Wichita Downtown Development Corporation (WDDC) approached a group of Kansas State College of Architecture, Planning and Design students about revitalizing key parts of their city center. These “catalyst sites” are publicly owned and the city believed that their redevelopment could attract more people and businesses to the area.

Wichita’s downtown master plan was designed by Boston design firm Goody Clancy and accepted by the city council in 2010. Jason Gregory, a K-State alum and executive vice president of the WDDC, helped sponsor the studio. As the students worked on the master plan Gregory and the WDDC encouraged the students to pay special attention to the “string of pearls”, important but disjointed historical and local attractions between the Arkansas River and the Old Town district.

Advanced students attaining their Master’s in landscape architecture and regional and community planning spent four days in Wichita exploring their sites and speaking with professionals to develop their ideas. Their home base was WDDC’s Design and Innovation Center, a 1,400-square-foot creative space in which the public is free to discuss initiatives that may improve the downtown or to use resources of downtown data. The D&I Center was paid for in part by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation under the specific condition that the space be used for educational outreach. Professionals from local businesses including Law Kingdon Architecture, WDM Architects, Professional Engineering Consultants, Ruggles & Bohm, GLMV Architecture, Schaefer Johnson Cox Frey Architecture, and the Prairie Gateway chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects met students at the D&I Center for their introduction to their sites. They guided students through their preliminary tours of the spaces and discussed possible designs.

The students returned to campus to start their conceptual designs. Six weeks later, their mentors visited them at K-State and evaluated their progress. The design studio held one final meeting to present their designs on May 8 at a public reception at the D&I Center, showcasing nine proposed projects on seven sites. Their ecologically-conscious urban concepts blended housing, retail and offices with parks, scenic overlooks, water features and community gardens. The sites are First and Waco Streets, Waco Park, Naftzger Green, Coleman North, 100Wichita, and the Knightley District, as well as infill projects three blocks east of the Century II Performing Arts and Convention Center, along First Street between Wichita and Waters Streets, and two blocks near the Intrust Bank Arena.

While the proposals are finished, the model of the final project still sits in the offices of the WDDC. An IT firm has already used the model to choose the site for their offices in the downtown area. Clients found it so helpful the WDDC has made the model a new requirement when proposing any new structure.

“One thing we’re doing is raising the reputation of K-State in the Wichita area. It was said to be extremely successful by the professionals… They received the project very well, and wrote about it in the Wichita Eagle and the [Wichita] Business Journal. It improves K-State’s contributions to the community. It’s an amazing opportunity to get out of the classroom and work with professionals and stakeholders with different viewpoints,” said Blake Belanger, associate professor who led the group along with assistant professor Jon Hunt.

For their hard work, Site Planning and Design Studio's spring 2013 Wichita Metropolitan Studio project received an APA New Horizon Award. Wichita also received recognition in the form of an invitation to the first Urban Sustainability Accelerator at Portland (Ore.) State University. Representatives from Wichita have begun meeting with their Oregon counterparts about how to keep green spaces when redeveloping urban spaces. Teams from all participating cities will attend a three-day workshop in Portland in July.

“We hope these proposals will provide inspiration for planners, designers and developers, and we invite you to approach the work with a spirit of creativity and optimism for the future of downtown Wichita,” said Belanger at the public reception. “While we don’t claim to have all the answers, we believe these projects each have merit and have the potency to contribute to the emergence of a more urban, more lucrative and more vibrant downtown Wichita.”

Their full proposal can be found here: http://www.downtownwichita.org/user/file/WDDC Final Book Digital.pdf