Wichita — Local officials, pleased by the crowds drawn to the city's newest tourist attraction, are planning to make the riverfront area near Exploration Place more attractive to those visitors.
By the end of June, officials expect to see the final plans for an $8.3 million facelift of the Arkansas River front near the new museum and the Keeper of the Plains statue.
"It's going to be very dramatic," said Kurt Skinner, director of landscape architecture and planning for Law-Kingdom Inc., the Wichita design firm putting the proposal together.
Planned improvements include raising the Keeper of the Plains statue by 25 to 30 feet, constructing a ring of fire that would float in front of the statue, installing two pedestrian bridges leading to the statue and building a landscaped pathway along the east side of the river to replace the existing one, said Monty Robson, downtown development coordinator for the city.
The current asphalt sidewalk is cracked with weeds growing through it, and nails protrude from weathered park benches.
Local tax money will pay for $6.8 million of the project, and a federal grant will pay for $1.5 million.
City officials chose to start near Exploration Place, a $62 million science center and museum that opened a year ago, because they want to make the area attractive to visitors.
Since the opening of Exploration Place's park this spring, museum president Al DeSena said he has seen an increasing number of people walking, jogging and relaxing along the river.
Anything that eases access to the river and makes the area more pleasant is positive, he said.
The public has a stake in seeing Exploration place succeed. Sedgwick County contributed $20 million to the project; the state, $1.5 million; and the city, $1.1 million, along with street improvements and land. The rest of the money came from private donations.
With the Wichita City Council's approval, construction on the pathway could start this year, Skinner said.
More complicated parts of the project, such as river overlooks, a plaza around the Keeper of the Plains and pedestrian bridges, likely would start next year, he said.