City Council member James Clendenin joked during an interview with The Eagle Editorial Board last month that the Naftzger Park redesign project was an example of how fast city government can move when it wants – and how that’s not necessarily perceived as a good thing.
The city’s desire to renovate the park in time for March’s NCAA Tournament games at Intrust Bank Arena moved too quickly for some.
The project was announced in mid-May, spurred community meetings by July and produced a preliminary design by August. By October, things were placed on hold, as the community was under-impressed with the plans and overwhelmed by the project’s speed.
Its funding had already been determined – $1.5 million in property taxes to come from the new development adjoining the park. But those taxes went away two weeks ago when TGC Development Group, owner of the Spaghetti Works building and parking lot alongside Naftzger Park, told the city its development was on hold.
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Naftzger is on hold, too. City manager Robert Layton said last week that public engagement will continue, in case funds for the project become available.
So what did we learn in six months?
▪ The city indeed can move quickly, which likely added to the controversy. The plan seemed to come out of nowhere and with a goal of looking good for the NCAAs – an awful lot to ask for one weekend of tourists.
▪ The park has its lovers – nostalgic Wichitans along with those who use it for wedding and senior portraits. But it also has fans in those who live nearby who want more from one of the few parks in the Old Town area.
▪ Residents seem split on how to treat the homeless patrons of the park. We all agree that we want fewer Wichitans to be homeless, but few of us wanted to directly address how a redesigned park affected them. More discussions about the park should make this a priority.
Layton and the city now have time to get a deeper, more meaningful picture of what residents want from Naftzger Park. There is no hurry. Normal maintenance will have it looking good for the NCAA Tournament. Then it’s a chance to build consensus.