For years now, city and law enforcement officials had been talking about the need to remove decaying docks and crumbling pathways along the Little Arkansas River in downtown Wichita.
Then Francisco “Tito” Perez was stabbed to death next to the river over Labor Day weekend.
“That really, for us, was the last straw,” City Council member Janet Miller said.
Over the past few weeks, public works crews have been removing the docks, stairways and concrete paths in a portion of the pathway that runs from Nims to Murdock. Next week, the City Council will consider changes to an ordinance that will allow police to enforce city ordinances along the easement the pathway is on, and give officers the authority to enforce the closure of the pathway to the public.
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“It was becoming a liability to the city because of the condition it was in,” Miller said of the walkway and wooden docks. “Essentially, the whole thing needed to come out and be replaced.”
Colby Sandlian, who recently purchased the River Park Place office building at 727 N. Waco, has “cleaned up the area beautifully” on the north edge of the pathway, Miller said. Fresh sod has been put down, she said, and scrubby trees and debris have been removed.
Wrought iron fencing will seal off access to stairs and “prohibit people from going down underneath that bridge,” Miller said. The fence will extend to the property line for three apartment complexes next to the river, where another gate will keep out people who don’t live at the complexes.
Apartment residents will still be able to use that stretch of the walkway, Miller said.
“It’s not safe back there anyway, with the asphalt buckled,” Patrol North Bureau Capt. Jeff Easter said.
Between 250 and 300 feet of the pathway has been removed, said Doug Kupper, director of parks and recreation for the city. Officials hope the cleanup and new fencing will eliminate or reduce the problem of loitering and trash dumping by homeless residents in the area.
“Apartment residents would sometimes find them passed out on the pathway or close to their apartment buildings,” Miller said. “There would be disturbances, arguments, fist fights...”
Perez, 39, was stabbed when he went out to confront two men arguing loudly on the night of Sept. 1.
“We’ve got to solve this problem,” Miller said.
Miller and Kupper said they hope removing the docks and pathway are an interim step.
“We do not anticipate replacing any of the trail or amenities in the near future, but we will keep it on our list to strive for once the economy comes back stronger,” Kupper said in an e-mail response to questions.
Yet any serious rehabilitation of the pathways will involve a substantial investment, Miller said, because of the amount of redesign and rewiring work that would be required.