Good evening, and welcome to the 2015 State of the City address. This is my final State of the City and I want you to know, it’s been an honor to serve and work with you as your mayor over the past eight years.
I’m so grateful for your support and I have many people to thank tonight.
To the people of Wichita, thank you for giving me your trust and support. It has been a great privilege and a humbling responsibility.
To the many civic groups, organizations and other stakeholders, who have partnered with us, thank you for joining me on this journey. We are better when we work together.
To current and past city councils, thank you for your commitment and countless hours of service and leadership.
To city employees, thank you for your dedication and professionalism.
SUCCESS THROUGH ADVERSITY
I have served as your mayor through some of the toughest economic times in our city’s history including the great recession of 2008, which grounded our economy, cost us thousands of jobs and damaged our housing market.
But we met those challenges head on. As our history has shown, we are resilient. We face our challenges. We stick together and we overcome.
Let me share a few successes. I’ll start with one I’m most proud of.
When I became mayor, one of my top priorities was working with you to revitalize downtown and we got a lot done. We created a downtown master plan and reignited development in the Core Area.
The master plan is guiding our efforts as we work with the Wichita Downtown Development Corp. and other partners.
Today, there are dozens of new places to live, work, shop, and eat downtown.
We’re seeing more activity along the Arkansas River, including a 154-unit apartment project.
Another project near the river is the new downtown library, across from Exploration Place.
It will be a next-generation learning center fostering innovation, creativity, and new businesses. This will build upon the momentum taking place in the Core Area.
Since 2009, the private sector has invested nearly $300 million in redevelopment projects including the Downtown YMCA, The Lux, Cargill Innovation Center, the Drury Plaza, and Ambassador hotels.
Douglas is rebounding with more than $150 million in new projects planned to start this year.
Just recently, we held a groundbreaking ceremony for Historic Union Station on Douglas. The $54 million dollar multi-use project will connect Old Town and Intrust Bank Arena and make walking in the area more enjoyable.
Recently, we got some really great news about the arena. It will host the March Madness basketball tournament in 2018.
We’re going to welcome those teams to Wichita, at a new terminal, the Wichita Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport. The grand opening will be this spring.
We should be proud, too, that during these tough economic times we sustained the Affordable Airfares program. We attracted low-cost carriers including Southwest Airlines. Since low-fare service began in Wichita in 2002, passenger traffic is up 23%.
Yes, we’re are the Air Capital of the World and we’re proud to be home to Spirit AeroSystems, Bombardier Aerospace and Textron Aviation companies’ Beechcraft, Cessna and Hawker.
We’re fighting hard to create and retain our aviation jobs and companies, because we know competitors are trying to take them.
We are a determined city, Wichita. We face our challenges. We stick together and we overcome.
We’ve traveled to China, Africa, Germany and other places to promote Wichita’s aviation companies and workers. It’s part of the Air Capital Program, which is positioning Wichita as the community most ready to serve growing markets. China is expected to become the largest aviation market in the world, with billions of dollars in new business.
Karyn Page, I want thank you and your hard-working team for championing our export efforts. I also want to thank some area small businesses that are working to export their products to China.
Exports are key to our continued recovery and success. One billion dollars in exports activity equals about 6,000 jobs according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. That’s important because Wichita lost more than $2.5 billion in exports between 2008 and 2012.
We are creating opportunities for our workers and companies. This includes providing economic incentives. Our competitors are using them and we need to be in the game of growing jobs.
We must also diversify our economy. Wichita has lost about 20,000 jobs over the past 10 years. Just recently, we learned of more layoffs in the aviation sector. This further makes the case for expanding into other industries and working together to improve the regional economy.
To that end, we’re working with Wichita State University and other partners on a jobs strategy for South Central, Kansas.
This strategy recognizes that everyone is part of the regional economy.
Our economic development strategy will be further strengthened by WSU’s Innovation Campus, which will provide a place for inventors, job creators, researchers, students, and others. Wichita will be known as a cutting-edge community driven by innovative ideas. The city is proud to be a partner on the Innovation Campus. I want to thank Dr. Bardo for his leadership and vision.
SAFER STREETS, NEIGHBORHOODS
Wichita, we’re doing exciting things to make our neighborhoods and streets safer.
By the end of this year, every Wichita Police Department officer in the field will wear a body camera to protect them and the public.
The body cameras are proof we are listening to you and working hard to improve relationships between the police department and the community.
WPD is also working on improving crisis-intervention training for officers to better serve people with mental health illnesses. We’re also focusing on cultural diversity and sensitivity training for officers. We need to make this training available for all City employees. They are working in an increasingly diverse community. So we need to make this training a priority.
Our officers are reaching out to you in proactive ways. They have been holding Impact meetings after major crimes occur. They gather in the streets and talk to neighbors and business owners to help solve and reduce crimes. Last year, nearly 2,600 people took part in these meetings.
I want to take a moment to thank men and women of the police department for their work in the community. Being a police officer is a demanding and dangerous job. WPD, you have our unwavering support.
Public safety continues to be a top priority. We’ve made investments in public safety workers, equipment and technology to make our community safer.
The Wichita Fire Department has opened three new fire stations and a regional training center.
Last year, WFD purchased nine new engines and a ladder truck to better respond to emergencies.
We’re also making our city healthier.
We limited smoking in public places.
We made it easier for you to get outdoors and bike and walk.
We engaged you to create master plans for biking and walking. Today, we have more walking paths and bike lanes. They’re better connected, so it’s easier and safer to get around the city.
I want to thank the Kansas Health Foundation and Steve Coen for a $100,000 grant that will fund bicycle signs and a street safety campaign.
There have been many infrastructure improvements over the past eight years. Wichita is the least congested large city in America and these projects have helped us maintain some of the nation’s best commute times. I’d like to talk about a few of them:
- The elevated Central Rail Corridor has improved traffic flow through downtown.
- Just this past November, we opened the new flyover connecting 13th street to I-235 to reduce traffic at Zoo Boulevard.
- The south side has benefitted from improvements to the interchange at I-135 and 47th street. The new bridges and extra turn lanes have made it easier to reach area businesses.
- We’ve also widened 13th street in east Wichita and expanded Kellogg to include an interchange at Rock Road.
- Our partnership with the State’s transportation department is speeding up expansion of East Kellogg. The State is funding part of the project, which will expand Kellogg to K-96 by late 2019. I’d like to thank our partners at the State. Representative Mark Hutton and Transportation Secretary Mike King are here with us tonight.
- We’ve also made significant drainage improvements along West Street, Meridian, and Cowskin creek to minimize flooding.
- And we completed the new dam, boat and fish passage at the Lincoln Street Bridge.
City Government More Efficient, Responsive
We’ve accomplished all of this while building a more efficient and responsive government.
Since the recession, the budget has been reduced by nearly $32 million dollars. We did it by:
- Streamlining service delivery models,
- Cutting positions,
- Out-sourcing when appropriate,
- And enhancing cost recovery of certain City services.
You helped us make some of these hard decisions by weighing in on the budget process through a variety of ways including our social media town hall meetings.
After gathering extensive community feedback, we implemented a new strategic plan for the Park & Recreation Department. The plan has reshaped how the department serves customers and resulted in many new participants and savings.
I’m also proud to report that the tax base continues to hold steady and for the 21st consecutive year, we’ve avoided a tax increase by maintaining a consistent mill levy rate.
The City has maintained an excellent credit rating, reduced financing costs, and captured savings.
Helping the Most Vulnerable
While we’ve reduced the size of government, we were still able to take care of those in need.
We’re continuing our commitment to end homelessness.
The Wichita-Sedgwick County area has been designated as a “Zero: 2016 community.” This means our goal is to end homelessness among veterans by the end of 2015 and all homelessness the following year.
This issue is personal to me. I served in the military and I want to do right by my brothers and sisters. I’m asking this remain a priority for this organization and our community. Our veterans served us. Now it’s time we serve them. Let’s help them find housing, healthcare and jobs.
This week, we’ll conduct our annual Point-In-Time survey, so we know the needs of our homeless population.
I want to express my heartfelt appreciation to the police department’s nationally recognized homeless outreach team or HOT team. It helps people find housing, jobs and other services.
I also want to encourage you to continue your support of the Lord’s Diner, which provides free meals for the homeless and others in need.
It’s important we also take care of our young and physically disadvantaged residents. I want to note a few efforts I’m proud of:
- Last year, a new baseball league for minority youth opened at McAdams Park. League 42 was started by sports columnist Bob Lutz and named in honor of hall of famer Jackie Robinson. He wanted to introduce baseball to more youth and teach them life skills. During League 42’s first year, it had 250 players. Tonight, some of the players and coaches are here, with Mr. Lutz.
- A few years ago, we also created Miracle Field, which is the first athletic complex of its kind in Kansas. It’s designed for children and adults with disabilities. I’m proud to say nearly 300 athletes have played at Miracle Field.
Beyond sports, it’s important we continue to encourage our young people to volunteer and serve their community and that’s what we’ve done with the Mayor’s Youth Council. The students have worked to ban indoor smoking, increase awareness about texting while driving, and volunteer in the community.
Young people, thank you for your service in our community. You are our future.
Wichita, we need to continue to improve our city for future generations.
Our water and sewer pipes are crumbling. Last week a major leak nearly shut down our ability to deliver water to nearly half a million people.
We also need to repair or replace most of our drainage systems. The total cost is estimated to be at least $2.1 billion.
Nearly half of our streets are ranked below nationally accepted benchmarks.
About 15 percent of our bridges need to be repaired or replaced.
Our Transit system is struggling due to fewer grant funds and rising operational costs. It will cost $21 million to replace the fleet over the next six years.
The Century II Convention Center is almost 50 years old. We should start planning for a replacement facility soon.
All of these issues will take a strategic approach and a major financial commitment from our city.
We know we’ll face additional challenges. Financial forecasts predict slow economic growth. State and federal economic challenges make us vulnerable and cause uncertainty. This could have a ripple effect and impact our local economy.
In conclusion, I want to speak briefly about the importance of local elections. They are the cornerstone of local government. They deserve to remain separate from state and federal elections. Local elections should not be about party affiliation. They should be about doing what’s best for our community.
I also want to remind City leaders to always listen to the people. Remember, we are public servants and we represent everyone. We don’t leave anyone behind.
We know there are people who don’t enjoy the same opportunities as others. Just recently, the Kansas African-American Affairs Commission, appointed by Gov. Brownback, reported that race relations in our state have improved but we still have a long way to go. The report cited subtle bias. It mentioned hiring practices, the way students are treated and racial profiling.
Wichita, this is a defining moment for our city. Who are we? What do we want to be?
- We want better job growth;
- We want to retain our companies;
- We want to keep our young people;
- We want to help those in need;
- We want a strong infrastructure;
- And we want to provide exceptional City services.
Our history shows us we can overcome significant challenges when we come together and call on our unshakeable determination and can-do spirit.
The same spirit that built thousands of fighter planes to help win a world war.
The same spirit that more than two decades ago beat back groundwater contamination to rescue our downtown.
The same spirit that recruited discount carriers to reduce airfares and stop the flow of jobs that were leaving our city.
And the same spirit that launched countless businesses that have produced products for consumers around the globe.
Uncertain times have united us, inspired us and shaped our great city.
Our City leadership will soon change and you will elect a new mayor. But you haven’t seen the last of me yet.
I will keep giving back to our community and I know you will, too.
Thank you for your work and for allowing me to serve you.
God bless you and God bless Wichita.