Archive for Thursday, October 11, 2007

More imagination, work needed to make river front park work

October 11, 2007

The De Soto City Council voted Tuesday to fund the Kaw River Front Park's first phase at $676,000. Another $57,000 almost assuredly will be made available from a grant administered by Johnson County, which is earmarked for uses to remediate for sand dredging operations for recreational uses.

Those opposed to the park believe the city had other priorities and point to the day the Kansas River inevitably rises to flood the low-lying land in the West Bottoms that is to be the park's home.

It's a legitimate concern. The park is in the 100-year floodplain and was apparently underwater in 1951 and 1993. The city and the park's supporters are gambling the next flood is some years away and would welcome another 40-year interval before the next flood. But there will be red faces if the new park is inundated soon after it opens.

It is the dream of its supporters that the park will attract visitors to De Soto and that those visitors will spend money in other locations, principally in the downtown district not too distant from the new park.

That could happen. It appears as if the park can be a successful venue site. It will have a stage with a view of the river in the background, a festival area with wide walkways sweeping past vendor areas, and a spacious open ground for carnival and other such uses. But it will take imagination, dedication and marketing to fully realize the park's potential.

The De Soto Chamber of Commerce's blues and barbecue event and the barbecue contest it inherited from Darrel Zimmerman are both popular and the combined event should draw a large crowd.

The park also is to be the future home of De Soto Days, which it is said can grow in the new surroundings. The park will provide a different festival setting but growth of the annual community festival will take a concerted effort in organization and marketing. Those who supported the park can demonstrate their seriousness to that effort by producing from their number someone to replace the resigning Max Atwell as chairman of the De Soto Days Committee.

But those two events alone, no matter how popular, won't make the park the successful magnet its supporters envision. That will take a season of events marketed to those who it is assumed will come to De Soto with their dollars in hand.

It is also the challenge of the city to provide direct and logical linkage of the park and downtown through accessible traffic flow, pedestrian walkways, signage, thematic design elements and other features.

Finally, the city needs to work closely with the Johnson County Park and Recreation District as it develops plans for the future park less than a mile away on the bluff overlooking the river. Trailways linking to that park and to the city's undeveloped Widow Big Knife to the west would give visitors the chance to enjoy the varied Kansas River environments with one stop.

In short, getting approval of the park will prove to be the easy part for its supporters. Making the park to be the success they envision will take the application of considerable work and imagination.

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