Council funds new park
A split De Soto City Council voted Tuesday to spend $676,159 for the first phase of Kaw River Front Park.
With the 3-2 vote, work will start on the park next year with the goal of improving the central section of 40 acres of West Bottom property north of 79th Street to festival grounds. The council met on Tuesday when two council members were unable to attend last Thursdays meeting.
The improvements will allow the De Soto Days Festival to relocate to the site. First-phase improvements include clearing and grading, installation of power and water lines, addition construction of a stage, vendors area, sidewalks and construction of a gravel n entryway connecting to a large kidney-shaped drive, which will circle a green envisioned to be a carnival site.
First-phase improvements don't include permanent bathrooms.
The vote ended an effort that started late last year when City Administrator Pat Guilfoyle suggested the city fast track the development of a master plan for the park. That process started with the appointment of a committee to provide a guideline for what the park should entail, which was provided to landscape architect Doug Pickert.
It was assumed from the start the park would require grant money to move forward. At Tuesday's meeting, Guilfoyle said the Johnson County Park and Recreation Commission had recommended the project receive $57,000 from a grant fund established to remediate sand dredging operations for recreational use. Although the Johnson County Commission needs to act on that recommendation, that is thought not to be a problem.
The fund has not been used for 10 years and the county has no plans of its own to use the money, Guilfoyle said. Moreover, the county park board agreed the proposed De Soto project was exactly what the county would do if it were to develop a park on the Kansas River, he said.
But it was a second grant possibility that Guilfoyle said made funding the park feasible while not adding pressure to the mill levy. That grant would not be for the park's development, but rather help the city pay for the planned streetscape improvements to downtown.
Guilfoyle said he and city engineer Mike Brungardt learned of that grant opportunity at a workshop in Emporia last week. Grants start with the state offering to pay for 80 percent of the improvements but Guilfoyle said cities offering to pay up to 50 percent of the costs go into a special pot much more likely to be funded.
Brungardt is now working to complete the city's grant application for an early November deadline for the downtown streetscape project estimated to cost $700,000.
When the council adopted a five-year capital improvement plan project list earlier this year, it trimmed back the $650,000 that had been earmarked for the park to $400,000 so more funding could be provided to downtown improvements in 2008.
However, Guilfoyle said Tuesday the most the city could accomplish downtown next year would be the development of a master plan for improvements and the specifications for bids. He estimated that would cost $100,000.
The city administrator's proposal was that the council reallocate the $200,000 slotted for 2008 downtown enhancements to the new park's development next year. The downtown enhancements would go forward as planned in 2009 with the anticipated $300,000 to $350,000 in grant money available for paying for half the improvements, Guilfoyle said.
"We're not going to slow things up downtown," he said. "By 2010, you have a fresh downtown."
Council members Mike Drennon and Mitra Templin readily embraced the financial package and timeline Guilfoyle proposed and were joined by a hesitant Betty Cannon, who had suggested the city fund the park at an optional $450,000 level.
As they have in the past, Drennon and Templin argued the river front park offered the city a unique way to market itself and give people a reason to visit the community. They and Mayor Dave Anderson also linked the park to downtown redevelopment because it would draw people to the community and through downtown.
In opposition, Councilman Ted Morse repeated his concerns about the location of the property in the floodplain and the cost of the inevitable cleanup. He also was concerned about the cost to the city in maintenance and operational costs.
Councilman Tim Maniez said he continued to have reservations about the park but was more concerned about moving money away from downtown development, which he said was critical for the city. He worried that the council would find some other way to spend the money earmarked in future years for downtown revitalization.
With the vote to fund the park at the $676,000 level, the council agreed to issue $728,000 in temporary notes to finance the improvements. The sum assumes the county commission approves the $57,000 grant.