This summer’s public forums on the future of Santa Fe Commons Park in downtown Overland Park generated one clear message from residents: Don’t move the Farmers’ Market to the park.
But the question remained, how could the city upgrade the space that is downtown’s central park and make it a more vibrant destination for residents, families and visitors?
On Wednesday night, the council’s community development committee voted unanimously for a plan that keeps the market where it is, at 7950 Marty St., but provides a new performance space, playground and enhanced green space within the park at 8045 Santa Fe Drive. The plan goes to the full council Oct. 1 for consideration.
“There’s a lot of things that we don’t have that we’ve been asked about over the years,” Park Services Director Greg Ruether told the committee. “What new could go into this location?”
The budget for the park improvements is $3 million and Ruether said the approved concept is designed to keep to that funding limit. Of the $3 million, $1 million is coming in a donation from retired car dealer Frank Thompson, a longtime philanthropist from Overland Park, and his wife Evangeline.
On Aug. 6, the city council approved an agreement that calls for Santa Fe Commons Park to be renamed Thompson Park once the upgrades are completed.
Amenities would include improved restrooms and shelters, a water feature with spray or mist, a contemporary children’s playground, natural play areas and space for table tennis, and a new open performance venue with a “paper airplane” shaped roof that would be a nod to Overland Park’s transportation past.
The conceptual plan was dubbed “Park Stroll,” by the Omaha-based RDG Planning & Design landscape architecture firm, which came up with four concepts for the city to consider over the summer. Two concepts were for the park only, and two were for incorporating the farmers’ market into the park. Following several public forums and meetings with downtown business advocates and other stakeholders, Ruether said, the “Park Stroll” concept was the consensus choice.
It would preserve the existing Carriage House, which dates from the early 1900s, and keep as many of the healthy trees as possible. It calls for replacing the deteriorating bandstand and broken sidewalks and fixing or replacing other aging infrastructure.
Bruce Niedermyer with RDG said the southern half of the park would remain as open and natural as possible, to create an urban lawn, almost like a “front yard,” for the nearby Santa Fe Towers apartments, whose many residents cherish the park and didn’t want substantial changes.
Ruether said he had appreciated his meeting with the Santa Fe Towers residents, describing them as “the nicest and most opinionated people.” He said the debate over moving the farmers’ market had been polarizing, but it was a useful discussion, and the feedback from well over 100 city residents and other stakeholders had been crucial to the city’s decision on the best direction for the park.
Many people felt shoehorning the farmers’ market into the park would reduce the desirable green space while also cramping the market. Parking was also a concern. City officials have determined that improving the market at its present location honors its 36-year history and is the best option, although those construction upgrades will have to be phased in over time to minimize disruptions to vendors and customers.
Some residents now have a new concern: they’ve objected to the renaming, arguing it was done with no public input. They believe the Santa Fe Commons name should be preserved and is a better tie to Overland Park’s historical connection to the Santa Fe Trail. But the committee took no testimony on the renaming Wednesday night.
About three dozen people attended Wednesday’s public hearing, and several testified that they were relieved and pleased with the chosen concept.
“I think that can make a beautiful addition to our city,” said Linda McGuckin, who lives nearby.
Others questioned some of the elements.
“I treasure the fact that the park is natural,” said Rich Kaufman, adding that he thinks all the new park structures will detract from its natural character. He thought the “paper airplane” shaped roof for the performance space was silly and advised, “Get rid of that element. Make it a glider.”
Kaufman and several others also wondered why the park improvements need to occur now. They suggested the city should wait until multiple downtown construction projects are completed in a few years to see if park changes are really needed.
But Councilman Paul Lyons opposed waiting and said the city can coordinate the park construction with other projects to try to reduce parking problems and inconvenience.
“I think we should go full steam ahead,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a great amenity.”
If the council approves the concept, more detailed designs go to the Overland Park Planning Commission, probably late this year or early next year. Ruether said the schedule calls for construction in 2019.