Politics & Government

Wichita planning to lease some Naftzger parkland to restaurants for private outdoor dining

The Wichita City Council is poised to turn public space at Naftzger Park downtown into private outdoor-dining space for restaurants being built at the edge of the park.

The council is scheduled to vote Tuesday on a lease agreement that would turn over as much as 1,500 square feet of park space for fenced-in dining areas that would be for the use of the businesses.

“In the redevelopment of Naftzger Park, a number of businesses will occupy commercial space on the east side of the park, including a restaurant, dessert shop and dog groomer,” said a city staff report made public Friday. “In order to meet the purposes of the Park serving as multi-use urban green space, outdoor dining has been identified as a desired amenity.

“This will be fulfilled through a lease agreement between the City and Douglas Development, LLC for the use of real property in the Naftzger Park Walk Area.”

The proposed lease originally appeared on the council’s consent agenda, where routine and non-controversial business items are approved in bulk with a single vote and without discussion.

Council member Bryan Frye asked at an agenda review Friday morning that it instead be placed on the regular agenda.

Frye also asked for a map of the dining areas so he could see how they affect the park space. Troy Houtman, director of the Park and Recreation Department, said he would ask developers to provide a map by Tuesday’s meeting.

Brandon Johnson, the council member who represents the area, was noncommittal. Like Frye, he said he would want to see a map before proceeding to a vote.

City Manager Robert Layton said outdoor dining “had been contemplated since we did the design of Naftzger.”

But previous renderings showed seating and tables that would be open to any member of the public who wanted to use them. The lease agreement on Tuesday’s agenda is the first indication that the city planned to allow private business use of the parkland.

Layton said it turned out that the restaurants need outdoor space to be fenced in if they are to serve alcohol there. He said the fencing also would relieve the city of responsibility if there were a liability issue with restaurant patrons.

Chase Billingham, a Wichita State University urban sociologist, is the administrator of a Facebook group closely following developments at Naftzger Park. He said “today’s news is not terribly surprising” given the city’s willingness throughout the process to integrate park amenities with the neighboring businesses.

“It does raise some concerns about maintaining public access to public space, but those concerns have been present from the start with this project,” he said. “Though we’ve known all along that the private developments would spill out onto the park, this is the first mention so far — at least that I’ve seen — of fencing being erected. There are no fences in any of the previous drawings or renderings.”

Naftzger Park consists of about an acre of space south of Douglas and west of the BNSF Railroad tracks.

The rebuilding of Naftzger park was approved by the council in April 2018 as part of a public-private partnership to benefit developers who are converting the former Spaghetti Works building into an apartment house and building a strip of commercial businesses at the eastern edge of the park. It includes a small fenced dog park designed primarily for use by residents of the apartments.

The developers have also been given partial control of activities in the park.

The initial lease for sidewalk dining space would run for 10 years. Rent would start at $2.50 a square foot and increase by 1.25 percent each year.

The $3,000 to $4,000 expected to be generated each year would be diverted to the park’s maintenance and operation budget.

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