Six months ago, we suggested the city of Wichita slow down its planned renovations of Naftzger Park. Too much was happening too quickly, all with the perceived aim of having a beautiful park to show off NCAA Tournament visitors passing by on the way to Intrust Bank Arena this month.
A pause was necessary, and it has paid off.
This week, with the NCAA Tournament moving out, landscape architect Tom Balsley returned to the city to introduce what he and the city hope is the final design.
The proposal takes one of the four concepts presented last August and adds several features that Wichitans suggested in public meetings. With the adapted design, it’s the right time for the city to move forward on changing the look of the 39-year-old park.
In a meeting with The Eagle’s editorial board Wednesday, Balsley and city manager Robert Layton said slowing down the project contributed to a better-informed design process.
“It allowed us to be more thoughtful in terms of looking at the comments we received and making sure they were addressed,” Layton said.
The final design has everything but a feel of the current park. Small gardens, an area for unleashed dogs, an interactive water feature, movable furniture and an area for food trucks are all incorporated.
Some existing trees will remain, but a new Naftzger will have little semblance of today’s park and that’s OK. The current Naftzger is worn and outdated, a park that’s a destination for only neighborhood residents.
The design goes to a City Council vote April 10. It will be financed by an already-existing Tax Incremental Finance district and gather tax revenue from new development east of the park. A first phase will cost $1.5 million and construction could begin in the summer.
Small concerns exist. Events at the park can be scheduled not only by the city’s Park and Recreation Department, but by business in the new adjacent development. It’s important that the new neighbors don’t overbook the park for their own use when the park was created for the entire city.
How the city’s homeless citizens are welcomed shouldn’t change. Naftzger has long been home to Wichitans who are homeless. Janet Miller, a former City Council member who works with groups that serve the homeless, said people who are homeless will remain welcome as those organizations continue to try to reduce those numbers.
Removing the perception of an NCAA Tournament timeline was the right move by Layton and city leaders. It gave Balsley time to add enhancements to his design, covering many of the suggestions from public feedback. With added features, the city can be proud in saying it listened to its constituents.
So the pause is over. The design is right and a good fit for the evolving Douglas Avenue corridor. A new Naftzger Park should be a jewel for years to come.