Politics & Government

Parks benefit from Hyatt sale; changes to Pawnee Prairie Park questioned

The 32,000-square-foot hangar that will house the Wichita-built and restored B-29 "Doc" will include a 16-foot high, 75-foot long window that will allow passersby to view the airplane when it's not flying.
The 32,000-square-foot hangar that will house the Wichita-built and restored B-29 "Doc" will include a 16-foot high, 75-foot long window that will allow passersby to view the airplane when it's not flying. Schaefer Johnson Cox Frey Architecture Courtesy illustration

City parks, neighborhood programs and various renovation projects will get a boost from money from the sale of the Hyatt Regency Wichita.

That money will fund upgrades to Harrison Park in east Wichita and a new wetlands park in northwest Wichita.

It will also pay for a number of changes to southwest Wichita’s Pawnee Prarie Park, which has attracted debate over bicycle and equestrian use.

Last year, the city sold the downtown Hyatt to casino magnate Phil Ruffin for $20 million. Council members later voted to put $10 million toward fixing neighborhood streets and $4 million into the public transit system.

On Wednesday, council members approved allocating the remainder of the Hyatt proceeds based on staff recommendations and community input.

“I’m excited, obviously, about taking these funds from what was a city-owned hotel and putting it back into our community…in a wide variety of ways,” Mayor Jeff Longwell said.

The vote will provide $1 million for changes to Pawnee Prairie Park, including hiking paths, bike paths and improvements for horseback riders.

Layton said the changes were requested by property owners west of the park “who were concerned that they did not have adequate or sufficient park amenities.”

Council member Jeff Blubaugh, whose district includes Pawnee Prairie Park, said the changes should be a “win-win” for those who use the park.

“It’s going to be something that everyone can benefit from with minimal impact on the existing wildlife,” he said. “Hopefully, what we’re doing is going to be things that’s going to better protect them and protect horseback riders.”

‘Completely changing it’

Several advocates for Pawnee Prairie Park disagreed.

Sherisa Reed said the new plan for Pawnee Prairie Park disregarded a park board recommendation that got input from equestrians, bicyclists, hikers and pedestrians.

“That proposal is not what we agreed on,” she said.

The park board plan called for a straighter path for bicyclists near the west entrance. But the city approved a plan that features a rounder loop into the woods that allows bicyclists.

Reed raised safety concerns because that area is heavily wooded.

“Even just on the walking trail, you don’t see someone until you round the corner,” Ray said. “The whole reason why we removed bikes from that area was so that they wouldn’t run into pedestrians.”

Horses are also now prohibited from a paved concrete path, which prevents riders from reaching the restroom, Reed said.

Stephanie Blue questioned why all funding for District 4 was going toward the park, instead of spreading Hyatt proceeds throughout the district.

“That money could be better used to take care of the park as it is as opposed to completely changing it,” she said.

Other projects

Other spending from Hyatt proceeds approved in a 6-1 council vote Tuesday:

▪ $1 million to help develop the new Pracht Wetlands Park, near Maize Road and 29th Street North. The land in District 5 will be the city’s first urban wetlands park.

▪ $900,000 to help construct a hangar to house and display ‘Doc’, the restored B-29 Superfortress, in District 2.

▪ $500,000 for a neighborhood grant program in District 3, which includes parts of southeast Wichita. Neighborhood groups could pay for things like playgrounds, park amenities and community gardens.

▪ $250,000 to help renovate the 340-seat Dunbar Theater, near I-135 and 9th Street, in District 1.

▪ $150,000 for a new neighborhood inspector in an area in District 3.

▪ $125,000 for a neighborhood program in District 1, which includes part of central and northeast Wichita. Projects would pay for things like sidewalk repair and tree trimming.

▪ $100,000 for reconstructing a parking lot next to Harrison Park, near Webb and Harry in District 2, where a dog park is being constructed.

▪ $36,000 for a Young Entrepreneurs program in District 1, which will primarily fund start-up and transportation costs.

Council member Janet Miller, whose district did not receive funding for specific projects, voted no.

Daniel Salazar: 316-269-6791, @imdanielsalazar