Evergy — the newly merged Westar Energy and Kansas City Power & Light — wants to show it is still committed to Kansas communities, and it’s starting with Wichita’s Naftzger Park.
“Westar, Evergy, wants to step up, and we are making a $1.4 million contribution . . . to get it to everything that we dream it could be,” said Jeff Beasley, vice president of customer operations.
A public-private partnership is transforming the park, all of which will be done in the second quarter of 2019 thanks to the Evergy donation. It otherwise could have taken years.
The longtime park is in the heart of downtown at Douglas and St. Francis and is part of the Spaghetti Works District. The district includes the former Spaghetti Works building, which will be remodeled into apartments, and a new mixed-use commercial building in front of it.
“As you look at all the things that are going on in the downtown area, Naftzger Park is almost . . . the epicenter,” Beasley said.
Except the city didn’t have all of the $3.9 million budget the transformation requires.
The city is spending $1 million, and another approximately $1.5 million will come from a tax-increment financing district that will use money generated from the taxes at businesses within it.
“But for Evergy stepping up . . . we would have had to build the park in phases,” said Jason Gregory, executive vice president at Downtown Wichita.
“The reality is that helps us complete truly a crucial quality-of-life initiative that would have taken several years to accomplish without their help,” Mayor Jeff Longwell said. “They’re a great community partner.”
Spaghetti Works developer Nick Esterline of TGC Development Group said the Evergy donation is “a tremendous, tremendous shot in the arm.”
“This is the perfect example of collaboration from all angles,” Esterline said. “Everybody going ‘All right, how do we put this puzzle together?’”
Combined, Westar and KCP&L invest about $6.5 million annually in civic and charitable contributions across the communities they serve.
“We’ll continue to do those things,” Beasley said. “But we saw this as a great project that’s taking place in the city and something that’s going to take the downtown area to the next level, and so we wanted to be part of it.”
The new Evergy name likely will be incorporated with the Naftzger Park name, though nothing has been decided yet.
“We want to be on everybody’s tongue, in a good way,” Beasley said.
The new park will have water features, a dog run and a stage with built-in sound.
Gregory said the idea is to offer reasons for people to be at the park on a regular basis.
“There’s a lot of residents within a two-, three-block walk of there,” he said. “Part of the idea, too, is that people walking their dog help activate space at all hours.”
The park will have what Gregory calls an open, flexible design concept with prairie grasses and flowers, a large open lawn area, shade and a variety of seating on the periphery.
Gregory said the thinking is the park will be an extension of nearby Intrust Bank Arena for pre- and post-concert events.
Instead of walls creating barriers to entry, as there are now, there will be more entrance points to the park.
“This actually encourages people to walk through it as you’re walking to and from the arena,” Gregory said.
He said the commercial and residential spaces on the east side of the park are “as critical as any design element in the park.”
“That’s built-in programming and activation if somebody’s sitting outside a restaurant or whatever.”
Esterline said the park is “literally in their front yard. We’re going to have something so special there that nothing else like it in downtown has because of what (Evergy) is bringing to the table and what the city’s done.”
Gregory said the park will be able to show movies or host televised events, such as ballgames where fans congregate to watch together.
The recent World Cup would have been a great opportunity for that, Beasley said..
“That’d be so cool just to have that space where people are all sharing the event together.”
Since 2010, when the city created a master plan for downtown, there has been an almost $400 million investment along Douglas from Delano to the Douglas Design District.
The plan identified the park and Spaghetti Works site as a key point along the corridor in part because it’s a link between the arena and Old Town.
“It’s one of those really exciting park spaces that we’ve been missing,” Gregory said. “And if you look at the rest of downtown, I mean it’s the prominent green space. Outside of the river corridor, we don’t have another green space downtown.”
Esterline said the park will transform into “a really cool pocket for the city and front door . . . to the Intrust Bank Arena.”
Gregory said the project is that much better because it can happen all at once.
“Now when we open this park to the community, it’s going to have everything that we hoped for.”