She’s leading Douglas beautification project but has bigger plans

2017: Cindy Carnahan’s vision for flowers in downtown Wichita

(FILE VIDEO - APRIL 10, 2017) Cindy Carnahan has a vision for beautifying downtown Wichita with flowers.
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(FILE VIDEO - APRIL 10, 2017) Cindy Carnahan has a vision for beautifying downtown Wichita with flowers.

What do you get when you cross a gardener with the best Rolodex in the city?

In Wichita’s case: flowers. Lots of them.

Cindy Carnahan, president of the Carnahan Group at J.P. Weigand & Sons, is leading the city’s effort to install 108 planters along Douglas between Main and Washington next month. She’s taking on planting and fundraising efforts, and she said she’s not going to stop there.

“I don’t want to just plant pots,” Carnahan said. “I want hanging baskets in Delano. Hanging baskets in Old Town. … I really want people to remember their experience in Wichita for the flowers.”

A lack of beauty inspired her.

Carnahan said she was leaving Music Theatre Wichita last summer when she noticed a particularly sad flower bed.

“And I was so taken – really, disgusted is the word – by what I saw outside of Century II in the way of plant material,” she said. “It looked like nobody did anything in that bed by the library all summer long. And I was so … kind of disheartened by it.

“That was the very first time I realized we’ve got to do something here.”

She contacted Jeff Fluhr, president of the Greater Wichita Partnership and Wichita Downtown Development Corp.

“And he said, ‘Well, as luck would have it, the city (is) already kind of down the road, but we need some help.’ 

Community leaders had been inspired by city-to-city trips where multitudes of flowers in other markets left an impression.

Carnahan is a longtime gardener whose own gardens have been on master gardener tours several times even though she’s not a master gardener.

“That would require taking tests, and I’ve given that up some time ago.”

She’s so dedicated, though, that Carnahan’s husband once bought her a miner’s hat so she could garden in the dark after busy days at work.

Fluhr and his staff knew they needed a certain expertise to make the project work.

“Our main objective is that we wanted to do it well,” WDDC executive vice president Jason Gregory said. “In south-central Kansas, it is a science.”

He said the city is paying $52,000 for the planters but has limited resources for maintaining them. The WDDC has money to put toward planting, which initially was going to be in two phases – pots on all four corners of each intersection and then large planters in the middle of each block. Bids came back close to the WDDC budget.

“Long story short, we’re doing it all,” Gregory said, which “will be such a dramatic impact.”

Carnahan and, as she put it, a “band of 16 warriors” will plant all the pots on a single day in May.

“God willing,” she said.

“That’ll be pretty neat to see that transformation over a weekend,” Gregory said.

More money is needed for professional maintenance and to extend the project, which is where Carnahan’s Rolodex of 8,500 names came in.

She and the WDDC sent letters to 3,200 of her contacts a couple of weeks ago and so far have raised about $26,000.

The plan for the planters is to always have something in the pots, from spring flowers to boxwoods over the winter with the addition of pansies in early spring, including next March when Wichita is host to the NCAA Tournament.

“It’s a huge undertaking,” Carnahan said.

Though the goal is to make a big impression, Carnahan said that’s also a fear.

“I feel like I need to deputize everyone who loves flowers into watching the pots to make sure no one hurts them,” she said.

The group still needs more money to ensure the project can continue.

“Serious money,” Carnahan said.

Check out for donation information.

Carnahan and Gregory see the pots as the beginning.

“We feel like this is a pretty big first step,” Gregory said. “If people see the impact that it has, it can be easier to do the next phase.”

Carnahan said she doesn’t see a limit to what they can do.

“I would love to see beautiful pots on entrances to Exploration Place and the entrances to the Keeper of the Plains park,” she said. “The sky’s the limit.”

Carnahan said she thinks visitors will be appreciative and Wichitans will be proud of the flowers.

“Because honestly, they will be spectacular.”

Carrie Rengers: 316-268-6340, @CarrieRengers