Politics & Government

Will outdoor tables in Naftzger Park be for paying customers only? No decision yet

Evergy gives $1.4 million for Naftzger Park

(FILE VIDEO -- 2018) Evergy, the newly merged Westar Energy and Kansas City Power & Light , is giving $1.4 million to the Naftzger Park project.
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(FILE VIDEO -- 2018) Evergy, the newly merged Westar Energy and Kansas City Power & Light , is giving $1.4 million to the Naftzger Park project.

It will be at least October before Wichita finds out if the company developing the Spaghetti Works District will be allowed to lease space in Naftzger Park for fenced-in outdoor dining and drinking.

The City Council was expected to take up the topic Tuesday, but council member Brandon Johnson asked to delay it to the Oct. 1 meeting “so we can have time to work out some of the issues in this agreement.”

That request was made and approved in under a minute as Park and Recreation Director Troy Houtman stood at the podium preparing to present the request for the lease to the council.

Several members of the public had showed up to oppose the proposal, which they see as an unwelcome intrusion by business into land that should be reserved as public space.

Christopher Parisho, who is running for City Council, said he had planned to ask why the lease agreement bypassed the Park Board and why it’s coming up at this late date in the process.

“The design clearly shows the developer intends to use the park space as their access to their businesses,” Parisho said. “So they should have had the lease agreement as something earlier on in the process instead of waiting until now.

“Or they could have designed their building with enough of a setback (from the park boundary) to not have to worry about leasing land from the city.”

Executives of TGC Development Group, the primary partner in the building project, declined to comment.

The proposed lease would allow developers to acquire the exclusive use of a 10-foot strip of park sidewalk to facilitate outdoor dining areas for restaurants in a commercial/office development now being built at the eastern edge of the park.

The areas would be fenced so they could meet state restrictions on serving alcohol, city officials have said.

Earlier renditions of the park showed the outdoor dining areas as open food-court-style seating where people could eat, work, or relax.

The initial staff report said the fenced area could be as much as 1,500 square feet of the one-acre park. But when a development drawing was submitted before Tuesday’s meeting, it showed the area as 2,285 square feet.

Houtman said the larger area represented the maximum extent of the lease, but he expected the actual amount of reserved dining space would be less, because some of the businesses planned in the development wouldn’t need it.

The city has worked with the developers to rebuild Naftzger Park and make an attractive front yard for the commercial/office project and the neighboring Spaghetti Works building that is being converted into an apartment house.

The $3.9 million park project is funded with $1 million from the city, $1.5 million from future property tax on the new development, plus a $1.4 million grant from Evergy, the corporate successor to Westar Energy.

The lease first appeared on the council’s consent agenda, where routine and non-controversial items are typically approved in bulk with a single vote and without discussion. It was moved over to the council’s regular agenda at the request of council member Bryan Frye.

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 reserved for the park’s maintenance and operation budget.

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.