True Blue: Century II dome nears restoration

By Joe Stumpe | April 1, 2024

Renovation of Century II’s trademark blue dome is nearly done.

Saved by concerned citizens from possible demolition, Century II is starting to look like its old self again. Make that its new self.

Restoration work on the downtown landmark’s iconic blue dome is nearly done, with completion expected by the end of summer. Nearly gone is the pale turquiose shade that’s loomed over the convention and performing arts center in recent decades, replaced by a vibrant blue hue that seems to melt into the sky at times.

“We knew the original intent was for a sky-blue color,” said Brad Teeter of SPT Architecture, who worked on the roof plan. “When we did some tear-off, we found some of that original color. We’re closer to that color than to what everybody’s seen for the last few years.”

Teeter said he thinks the roof was last painted at least 20 years ago.

The work underway now is more than just a paint job, as it involved stripping off the roof and insulation down to the concrete, he said. “It’s a whole new roof system, with like a 25-year warranty,” Teeter said.

The $5 million job is drawing raves from the same people who’ve criticized the city’s handling of Century II in the past.

“I think the roof looks marvelous, just the way it pops,” said Celeste Racette, who leads the Save Century II organization. “I’ve already been sent lots of pictures from people flying over Wichita who just love the way it looks.”

The dome renovation is part of $18 million in capital improvements to Century II that the City Council approved in 2022. Of that, about $11.2 million was to be spent last year and this year on the roof along with upgrades to the fire alarm, air conditioning and WiFi systems, lifts, elevators and stage and rigging systems. The remaining money is to be through 2032 on projects that were not specified in documents provided by the city to The Active Age. 

While happy with the roof, Racette remains wary of the city’s long-term plans for Century II, which opened in 1969 to commemorate the city’s first 100 years. Racette said the roof was rated in poor shape by the city as early as 2009. That year, the city approved $20 million in planned capital improvements to Century II. However, the money was never spent.

In 2019, civic boosters, with backing from the city and Sedgwick County, trumpeted a billion-dollar riverfront redevelopment plan that would have demolished Century II and the former main library building located nearby. City officials said Century II could not be renovated to meet the needs of a modern convention and performing arts center.

Racette said the city’s handling of Century II over the years amounted to “demolition by deterioration,” with the goal of allowing private developers to profit from the riverfront.

The city changed course after Save Century II gathered more than 17,000 signatures on a petition drive demanding that voters be allowed to decide the building’s future. The city’s current capital improvement plan states that the intention is “to maintain this cultural icon.”  The plan still calls for a new convention center, stating that it “would complement the continued use of the iconic Century II facility.”

Racette said Century II needs tens of millions of dollars in additional work to which the city has not committed, including reconfiguring its convention spaces, improving the theaters’ dressing rooms and restoring the Kennedy Plaza and other surrounding areas. Racette would also like to see the lighted spire atop the building reactivated.

“It’s not enough, it falls short, but at least it’s a step in the right direction,” Racette said of the city’s current plans for Century II. “Anything is better than nothing.”


Century II celebration

Save Century II is holding a roof celebration from 5:30-7:30 p.m. April 18 in Century II’s Mary Jane Teall Theatre. George Smart, a North Carolina architect and expert on modernism, will be the featured speaker. Admission is free.