Politics & Government

March Madness spurs park improvement plan that may include artificial turf

Wichita plans to convert Naftzger Park in downtown Wichita into what one city official called a modern outdoor venue before the NCAA basketball tournament next spring. The park is south of Douglas, just west of the railroad tracks that bisect downtown.
Wichita plans to convert Naftzger Park in downtown Wichita into what one city official called a modern outdoor venue before the NCAA basketball tournament next spring. The park is south of Douglas, just west of the railroad tracks that bisect downtown. The Wichita Eagle

Wichita wants to spiff up Naftzger Park in downtown Wichita before the NCAA basketball tournament comes to town next year.

The City Council voted Tuesday to alter a 2008 redevelopment plan so that money that is set aside to fix up the area around the Intrust Bank Arena can be spent on improving the park.

The park is south of Douglas, just west of the railroad tracks that bisect downtown.

“The proposed redevelopment would convert Naftzger Park into more of a modern outdoor venue with music, entertainment and fitness activities,” said Mark Elder, development analyst for the city.

The redevelopment would convert Naftzger Park into more of a modern outdoor venue with music, entertainment and fitness activities.

Mark Elder, city of Wichita

A preliminary estimate of the cost is $1.5 million, said City Manager Robert Layton. Among other things, that would pay for repairing sidewalks and improving seating.

The city also is considering replacing the grass with artificial turf, he said. That’s a trend for cities seeking spaces that can be used for events that draw crowds.

“Naftzger Park is a gathering location in downtown that has seen a lot of increased development along Douglas and near this area, but it’s also a connection between Old Town and the arena,” Elder said. “This is also an opportunity to make a lot of these improvements prior to the NCAA basketball tournament in 2018.”

The park is now heavily used as a gathering site by homeless people.

That’s a headache for city and tourism officials who want to put Wichita’s best face forward when tens of thousands of visitors and hundreds of sports reporters arrive for the March Madness basketball tournament.

The Center City South Redevelopment District was expanded in 2008 to tap into increased property tax revenue to pay for public improvements around the arena, which is owned by Sedgwick County.

But Naftzger Park was not included in the original improvement plan, so it has to be added before any of the redevelopment tax money can be spent there, Elder said.

Under state redevelopment law, the county has 30 days to reject the proposed change in the redevelopment plan or it automatically goes into effect.

At present, the redevelopment money could only go to traffic and parking projects, according to a staff report.

Wichita will also host NCAA March Madness games in 2021.

Wichita will host eight teams for the first and second rounds of the 2021 NCAA Tournament. It will mark the second time in a three-year span that Wichita will serve as a host city. (April 18, 2017)

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