Abandoned Joyland park could be reborn with carnival rides, weddings, paintball range

A plan to bring new joy to Joyland with an outdoor event center and paintball range has won approval from planners and neighbors and is set to go to the City Council next month.

Councilman James Clendenin, who represents the area, said he’s pleased to see some redevelopment finally occurring at the site.

The land at 2801 S. Hillside was the location of Joyland Amusement Park from 1949 until 2006, when it shut down for good.

The site has deteriorated in the years since — subject to rampant vandalism, theft, and the occasional arson. A fire destroyed much of what remained in August 2018.

It’s been pretty much an eyesore and a nuisance since it closed, Clendenin said. People have gotten hurt exploring the ruins. The squalid conditions even provided a backdrop for a zombie movie.

Gregory and Tina Dunnegan bought Joyland’s 57 acres at auction for $198,000 last November.

The Dunnegans own a business that rents tents for occasions such as outdoor weddings and want to build on that by creating an outdoor event venue, Clendenin said.

“He (Gregory) wants the ability to do outdoor events as well as move his tent rental business to that property,” Clendenin said. “He’s going to have to spend a lot of money cleaning it up.”

There could even be rides at Joyland again, though probably not permanent ones — such as traveling carnivals.

“While much of this parcel is in the flood plain, there are many opportunities for development,” consultant Greg Ferris wrote in a proposal for the site. “They (the owners) envision temporary outdoor festivals and temporary amusement rides to capture the old flavor of Joyland. They would also like to utilize the existing building for events such as weddings and parties.”

In addition, a heavily wooded area along the south side of the property is proposed for an open-to-the-public paintball range where hobbyists could engage in mock battles.

Clendenin said the police and sheriff’s departments are also excited about that, “so they can do some of their tactical training in an outdoor setting.”

The west edge of Joyland fronts the interchange where I-135 meets the K-15 Highway. The plan calls for the installation of several billboard signs that will be visible from both roads.

Because of the size of the property and the isolation of the freeway frontage, “that won’t affect the neighbors at all,” Clendenin said.

Earlier this decade, a group of young Wichitans attempted to raise money to restore Joyland as an amusement park — though that effort, called Restore Hope Inc., folded after raising just under $10,500.

The venerable amusement park opened in south Wichita in 1949 — a couple years after members of the Ottaway family had begun offering miniature train rides in the Planeview neighborhood across Hillside.

Generations of Wichitans strolled its midway, walked its Whacky Shack and rode its rickety wooden roller coaster.

Margaret Nelson Spear, the last owner of Joyland, closed the park in 2006.

The Historic Preservation Alliance of Wichita and Sedgwick County has saved a few pieces from the park, including its iconic sign. Its carousel has been artfully restored and is expected to open to the public this fall at Botanica.

A documentary on the history of the park aired on KPTS (Channel 8) on Monday night and is scheduled to air again at 8:30 p.m. Monday, June 17.

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Senior Journalist Dion Lefler has been providing award-winning coverage of local government, politics and business in Wichita for 20 years. Dion hails from Los Angeles, where he worked for the LA Daily News, the Pasadena Star-News and other papers. He’s a father of twins, director of lay servant ministries in the United Methodist Church and plays second base for the Old Cowtown vintage baseball team.
Matt Riedl covers arts and entertainment news for the Wichita Eagle and has done so since 2015. He maintains the Keeper of the Plans blog on Facebook, dedicated to keeping Wichitans abreast of all things fun.