Plans to tear up and rebuild Naftzger Park downtown have been shelved indefinitely, after developers who own neighboring property pulled out of working with the city, Wichita City Manager Robert Layton said Friday.
“The project that they’ve had in front of us, they’ve withdrawn,” Layton said after announcing the change at a meeting of the Wichita Pachyderm Club on Friday. “They just made the decision in the last two weeks to go in a different direction. I don’t think they’ve figured out yet what that direction is. At least they haven’t shared that with us.”
TGC Development Group had been working closely with the city on plans to redesign and rebuild the downtown park as part of a planned renovation of the former Spaghetti Works building and new development of vacant land between the park and the BNSF railroad tracks.
TGC principal Nick Esterline would not say why the group withdrew its proposal or what its future plans may be. “That’s not something I’m prepared to talk about right now,” he said.
City officials had originally hoped to rebuild the park in time for it to host outdoor activities in conjunction with the NCAA basketball tournament scheduled for March.
The rebuild would have removed the park’s pond, gazebo and hills in favor of a flatter and more modern design with a pavilion, concert space and a small dog run for the neighbors in the apartments TGC planned to build.
Public feedback was deeply split.
Some downtown neighbors cheered the redesign because the new park would give them more space to play and deter the homeless people who now spend their days in the park.
Others said the city was destroying a historic and scenic resource used as the backdrop for countless wedding photos.
The withdrawal of the TGC project ends that controversy, at least for the time being. The first $1.5 million to pay for park reconstruction had been slated to come from increased property tax that would have been generated by TGC’s development project.
The city had turned over much of the park design work to the company to ensure that it would enhance the apartments and businessess TGC was planning.
Layton said City Hall will continue the public engagement process it started to gather input on what the park should be, in case money does become available.
“I do think we should go ahead and finish out the design process and we would do that on our own,” Layton said. “We probably would still consult with them (TGC) to make sure there’s the right integration of the park and whatever development would occur.”