Wichita, Kansas, is as well known for its Old West heritage as it is recognized in modern times as the Air Capital of the World. That is quite a span of history, but the city, with its many interesting sites and attractions, is more than happy to educate visitors about what makes this prairie destination so special.
Several hundred delegates to the Going On Faith Conference, scheduled for August 19-21, 2020, will get a chance to see and do a lot in this fascinating city. The conference will take place at the Hyatt Regency Wichita. Connected to the Hyatt is the 200,000-square-foot Century II Performing Arts and Convention Center.
Going On Faith delegates are travel planners who represent churches and faith-based organizations all around the nation and who are seeking fresh travel ideas and destinations to consider. They will meet with hundreds of tour and destination providers. Wichita officials think a planner would do well to select their city to launch a tour.
“Wichita is the largest city in Kansas and a pretty lively Midwestern location right in the middle of the country and with a lot of local pride,” said Lindsay Gulley, convention sales manager for Visit Wichita, the city’s convention and visitors bureau. “Over the past 15 years, downtown Wichita has been evolving into a vibrant area. There’s been a lot of revitalization with restaurants, boutique shopping, breweries, art galleries and neat outdoor spaces. It’s really fun to walk downtown and see all those things. We are excited to be hosting the conference.”
Old Union Station is downtown in the Old Town area. It has been preserved and restored and offers eateries, entertainment and mixed office space, as well as a winery, one of three in the area. There are about 8,100 hotel rooms in Wichita, with accommodations ranging from luxury to economy. Kansas’ only AAA Four-Diamond hotel — the Ambassador Hotel Autograph Collection — is located in the city.
The CVB feels that Wichita, a city of 390,000 people, is primed to host a conference like Going On Faith because of its Bible Belt culture and the many faiths represented there.
“We have over 600 churches, and we are very welcoming,” said Gulley. “The things the church groups I work with like best are the size of the city and what it has to offer. It’s easy to get to and navigate in, and we have plenty for them to do.”
Wichita Then and Now
Wichita hasn’t forsaken its pioneering past while plunging into an exciting future. The city is rich with stories of its beginnings as a cowtown to becoming a center for the aircraft industry.
“After the Civil War, we were one of the destinations at the end of the famous Chisholm Trail,” said Moji Rosson, vice president of sales for Visit Wichita.
Cowboys, many of them just teenagers, drove an astonishing 20 million head of cattle north from Texas to the railheads in Kansas, which meant Kansas helped deliver beef by train to the rest of a growing and hungry country. The Chisholm Trail still bears old wagon ruts in the earth, as well as the way markers that kept the herds and horsemen on track.
Wichita’s Old Cowtown Museum commemorates the area’s cattle-driving past. This living-history museum is in the Delano entertainment district near the Arkansas River, which flows through the heart of the city. The museum lets visitors immerse themselves in the sounds, sights and excitement of a Midwestern cattle town. The area was a cowboy hangout in the old days.
“You can actually experience what it would have been like to be part of Wichita during the cattle days,” said Rosson. “There’s an old general store, a school, historic houses, a blacksmith, funeral parlor, a saloon, everything you can think of.”
In contrast to its Cowtown nickname, Wichita embraced the future of aviation as early as the 1920s and 1930s, when business leaders and aeronautical engineers established such elite aircraft manufacturing companies as Cessna, Beechcraft and Stearman Aircraft. Aviation luminary Charles Lindbergh visited the city often. Famed flier Amelia Earhart was a Kansas native. In the late ’40s, Wichita operated one of the busiest airports in the U.S., as it was a major midcontinent stopover for the new, emerging commercial airline industry.
Today, Airbus, Learjet, Textron Aviation and Spirit AeroSystems continue to design and build aircraft around Wichita. McConnell Air Force Base is in the city.
The local airport is named Wichita Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport. The late president grew up in Kansas.
The Kansas Aviation Museum showcases a world-class collection of aviation memorabilia and is home to the Kansas Aviation Hall of Fame, which includes some of the greatest names in aviation industry.
Aside from immersing oneself in cowboy lore or the history of the aviation industry, there is much more to do in Wichita. Many visitors who arrive in the city are urged to visit the monument known as Keeper of the Plains.
“It is considered Wichita’s most iconic image and structure, and it is located at the confluence of the Arkansas and Little Arkansas rivers,” said Jessica Sawatski, Visit Wichita’s public relations manager.
The 44-foot-tall steel sculpture of a Native American is standing on land that natives believe is sacred. The image was created by local artist Blackbear Bosin. Each evening, people wander to the surrounding plaza to view the lighting of the Ring of Fire around the monument.
Theater is a special experience in the city mainly because of a summertime program called Music Theater Wichita. The company produces five Broadway-scale musicals June through August using a smattering of Broadway and Hollywood professionals and seasonal performers, technical staff and orchestra members. More than 1,000 people audition for the coveted roles.
“This is one of our hidden gems, a real training ground for Broadway performers,” said Rosson. “They are so good they blow people away. If you watch a Broadway show in New York City, more likely than not, you are seeing artists and actors who got their start right here in Wichita.”
Speaking of the arts, one of the largest art museums in Kansas happens to be the Wichita Art Museum.
Like many midsize American cities, Wichita is seeing an explosion in the craft beer scene. “We have 10 local breweries, and we certainly think that will increase,” said Rosson. “Wichitans have really gravitated toward craft beer, and visitors can also enjoy the creativity of our local breweries, such as with their wheat beers.”
Shopping is fun in Wichita. The CVB recommends a couple of interesting places to explore. One is called the Spice Merchant. It is in a historic building and features more than 200 bulk teas, 75 freshly roasted coffees and various types of bulk herbs and spices. You can pick up gift items and gourmet foods there, too.
Another spot is run by third-generation family members. The Nifty Nut House was opened in 1937. Think nuts, candy, milk and dark chocolates, gum, dried fruits and mints, to name a few delicacies. The shop offers raw, roasted and salted nuts of all kinds.
The Spice Merchant and the Nifty Nut House are both great places to bring groups.
Along the Arkansas River, near the Delano District, a new 10,000-seat AAA baseball park is being built. It will house a yet unnamed Pacific Coast League team that will begin play there in the spring. When baseball is not in season, the park and surrounding areas will host high school football games, sports festivals, concerts and an ice rink. “There will also be a lot of dining and shopping options in the area,” said Rosson.
The Arkansas River is also fun for recreation. Local folks and visitors enjoy kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, canoeing and more. People can engage with the river by taking advantage of watercraft rentals in the downtown river area.
Botanica, the Wichita Gardens is the city’s community green space. The gardens offer beautiful surprises year-round as the seasons change. Visitors find prairie wildflowers, flowering shrubs, roses, annuals, perennials and much more.
Wichita is rightfully proud of Sedgwick County Zoo, the seventh-largest zoo in the United States. There are 400 species and about 3,000 individual animals within its gates. The zoo groups its animals geographically, such as by Africa, Asia, North America and so on, and also presents special settings, such as for chimpanzees, tigers, gorillas and penguins. Exhibits are designed to help guests immerse themselves in the animal’s world.