Dining With Denise Neil

New Pop-Up Urban Park draws big downtown crowds on Douglas

The new Pop-Up Urban Park at 121 E. Douglas will have food trucks parked there every week day, even during the winter.
The new Pop-Up Urban Park at 121 E. Douglas will have food trucks parked there every week day, even during the winter. The Wichita Eagle

Downtown Wichita looked like a real downtown for a little while this afternoon – and it likely will again tonight.

By real downtown, I mean one that has sidewalks bustling with people and activity and sound and life. Wichita gets better at that all the time, but this afternoon felt different.

It was thanks to the new Pop-Up Urban Park, which officially opened over the lunch hour with food trucks and a big crowd. The celebration will continue with another gathering from 7 to 9 p.m. this evening.

The park is set up in a space at 121 E. Douglas that, until recently, was a big hole in the ground – literally. Crews filled it, covered it with gravel and installed some plug-ins for food trucks and a stage. They also installed all sorts of colorful seating, picnic tables, string lights overhead – even a ping pong table that will stay in the park. There’s also some public art in the park, including three brightly decorated “Keepers on Parade” statues donated by The Wichita Eagle, and an eye-catching wall art installation called “Sunflower.”

This afternoon, the park was filled with dozens of office workers, who were playing ping pong, listening to a live band and standing in line to get lunch from four food trucks that were operating – and operating quietly since they didn’t need their generators.

The food truck operators have agreed that at least two of them will park there over the lunch hour Mondays through Fridays from now on, even in the winter, said Jason Gregory, the executive president of Wichita Downtown Development Corporation. Sometimes, more will be there, and occasionally, they’ll park there on Friday and Saturday nights as well. The trucks have agreed to have a lottery each month to determine which days they’ll serve in the park, and they’ll post a calendar on the Pop Up Park’s Facebook page.

The park is the result of a $150,000 Knight Foundation Fund grant, administered through the Wichita Community Foundation. Developers Robert Eyster and Michael Ramsey plan to develop the space eventually, but the park should be there for probably three to five years, Gregory said.

The park’s planners will leave some ping pong paddles in the park with the table, but it’s likely they won’t last long, Gregory said. Visitors should bring their own balls and paddles, he said, and the group might use some grant money to purchase ping pong equipment and leave it in nearby offices.