Politics & Government

Four designs unveiled for Naftzger Park downtown

2017: Homeless hope to see upgrades to Naftzger Park

Allen Stoker spends a lot of time at Naftzger Park and says he wouldn’t mind seeing some upgrades to the downtown park that make things easier for the homeless population that frequents the park. (Travis Heying/The Wichita Eagle/August 2017)
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Allen Stoker spends a lot of time at Naftzger Park and says he wouldn’t mind seeing some upgrades to the downtown park that make things easier for the homeless population that frequents the park. (Travis Heying/The Wichita Eagle/August 2017)

Designers unveiled four possible plans for Naftzger Park on Thursday evening to mixed reviews and questions about how changes to the park would affect homeless people who traditionally gather there.

All four concepts would eliminate the brick walls and five entrances at the current park in favor of an open design to facilitate more walk-through traffic.

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Each design also includes a large open space that could seat between 900 and 1,500 people for outdoor concerts or other activities.

In two of the designs, the space is rectangular. One is elliptical and one is teardrop shaped.

All of the concepts include a mini dog park, to be carpeted with a special type of easy-to-clean artificial turf.

The designs were offered by Thomas Balsley of the New York-based SWA Balsley company, which has been retained to make over Naftzger Park. The city plans to spend about $1.5 million on the renovation.

Although Naftzger Park may look appealing in its present state, it really doesn’t function like a modern urban park, Balsley said.

It was designed to be an enclave of green space to allow users a respite from the city. But today, such parks are designed to celebrate urban lifestyles, not get away from them, he said.

All of the designs do away with Naftzger Park’s existing pond, brook and gazebo.

The proposed water features are splash fountains with ground-level jets and shallow “skim pads.”

In place of the gazebo would be more modern open-air canopies, likely at the corner of the park.

Other features include:

▪  Space for outdoor games.

▪  Pylon lighting.

▪  Low box gardens with no-maintenance native plantings.

▪  Work/watch areas with tables suitable for working on computers.

▪  Cafe-style seating for outdoor dining.

▪  A monument to prohibitionist Carry Nation, a prohibitionist who, in 1900, famously took an ax to the bar at the Eaton Hotel across the street from the park.

The sketches and plans for the park were released Thursday evening at a public meeting at the Eaton, which has been redeveloped into upscale apartments.

Members of the public can view the plans and offer comments at another open house from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. Friday at the former Eaton Steakhouse, 523 E. Douglas.

None of the designs have restrooms.

And that caused some sparks over the fate of homeless people who use the park as a shady refuge on hot days downtown.

Neighbor Dale Small said the need for restrooms for the homeless was clearly stated in earlier meetings about the park and those comments were “kind of overlooked” in the final design.

But Raymond Ortiz, a resident of the Eaton apartments, said he supports leaving restrooms out of the park.

“Right now that is a restroom,” he said. “That’s not something we want to see in our alleyway... why encourage it?”

Balsley said restrooms were excluded because of the cost and maintenance burden they would place on the city. The park does not have restrooms now.

Eaton residents have complained to city officials of aggressive panhandling and some attempts by homeless people to enter their secured building by catching the door as residents enter or exit.

Homeless people who use the park acknowledge there have been problems, but say they’re being pushed out as the area around the park becomes more gentrified. They say the problems could be solved with better law enforcement and security cameras, not a wholesale redesign to make the park inhospitable for them.

Naftzger Park sits on about an acre at the southeast corner of Douglas and St. Francis, just north of the former Spaghetti Works building.

The redesign is being overseen by the development company that is planning to convert the Spaghetti Works building into more apartments.

That company, TGC development, is owned by Nicholas Esterline and is acting as an agent for the property on behalf of the city, according to state and project documents.

City officials want the work to be finished before March, when the arena will host a weekend of first-round games in the “March Madness” NCAA college basketball tournament.

Under its agreement with the NCAA, Wichita is required to stage a basketball-themed outdoor fair along with the tournament.

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