Politics & Government

Westar Energy parent company to sponsor Evergy Pavilion in Naftzger Park

The company that owns Westar Energy will soon become the corporate sponsor of Naftzger Park, if the City Council approves an agreement Tuesday.

Under the agreement, Evergy, the parent company of Westar and Kansas City Power & Light, will hold sole naming rights to infrastructure in the park, in exchange for $1.4 million to build what is to be called Evergy Pavilion.

Evergy is the new name of the electric utility created by the merger of Westar and KCP&L that was approved by state regulators in May. The company continues to fly under the Westar flag locally, but that name will be phased out in favor of Evergy over time.

The pavilion is part of a $2.9 million modernization of the pocket park on the south side of Douglas, west of the BNSF railroad tracks downtown.

Long a haven for homeless people downtown, the park is closed now. It will be rebuilt to serve as a gateway to the Intrust Bank Arena. It also will provide a common front yard and dog run for apartments and businesses around it, including the rehab of the former Spaghetti Works restaurant into apartments.

Taxes on the new development to the east of the park, including a law office and restaurant, will pay for $1.5 million of the development cost.

City Council members Brandon Johnson and Cindy Claycomb, whose districts intersect near the park, said they had just gotten the proposed sponsorship agreement with Evergy and couldn’t comment because they hadn’t had a chance to study it in detail.

Under the proposed contract:

Evergy/Westar will pay the city $1.4 million and receive naming rights to the park’s concert stage, to be called the Evergy Pavilion.

Evergy will be allowed to install signs identifying the stage as Evergy Pavilion, with the city having the right to approve the design.

The city will be responsible for maintaining the signs and be responsible for fixing any damage from vandalism or theft.

Evergy/Westar will be the only sponsor whose advertising is allowed on any fixed infrastructure on the park.

The Evergy logo will appear on all city marketing materials related to park events using the pavilion..

The concept of corporations funding improvements like the stage and then putting their name on it is routine, as evidenced by the Intrust Bank Arena nearby, said Russell Fox, a professor of political science at Friends University who follows Wichita development.

But Fox said it “feels kind of weird to see this sort of corporate language on a small urban park.”

The park was wooded and used to have a scenic pond and gazebo that was a site for wedding pictures. The pond has been filled in, the gazebo has been moved out and most of the trees have been taken down to give the park a more open look and create a space for outdoor events to complement events at the arena.

State law allow utilities to recover up to half of their charitable contributions from their ratepayers.

But Evergy has decided not to try to include the sponsorship expense in its rate base, said company spokeswoman Gina Penzig.

Money for the park improvements will instead come from its shareholder profit, she said.

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.