River front park update sparks council debate on project’s merits
An update on the proposed Kaw River Front Park became an opportunity of a De Soto City Council debate whether the project should go forward.
The debate came as landscape architect Doug Pickert finished a presentation on three funding options for the first phase of the 40-acre park on bottomland in the West Bottoms off 79th Street.
With City Administrator Pat Guilfoyle still exploring outside funding sources, no decision was made on the options. However, Guilfoyle did say he expected to learn if the grant sources he was investigating would be available by the council's Sept. 20 meeting or, by the latest, Oct. 4.
At the conclusion of the Pickert's presentation, Councilman Ted Morse again questioned the development of a park at the site certain to be inundated in a future flood. He would be voting against any funding for the project, he said.
"Nobody I've talked to wants the park, and I talk to a lot of people," he said. "I've seen that area flood twice in my lifetime."
The flood would leave a layer of stinking slime on the park and a large cleanup bill for the city, Morse said. The city would better off investing in other projects, he said.
Councilman Tim Maniez also expressed reservations. When he was growing up, he and other De Soto children were warned to stay away from the river because it was "dangerous," he said.
Maniez said he had heard little support for the "white elephant," which he was most thought was in an unattractive "mosquito" plagued location. Residents didn't want De Soto to be another Lenexa, he said.
In response, Councilwoman Mitra Templin said she, too, had doubts about the park when it was first proposed. But she said she had grown to see it as something De Soto could offer that would be unique.
"We have nothing in downtown or De Soto that would make us a destination point," she said. "We need to look at what we can do to attract people to De Soto. The one thing we have is the ability to be on the river."
Shawnee is the only other Johnson County city on the river and it doesn't have a park and the only other one such as proposed in De Soto in the metropolitan areas is in Riverside, Mo., Templin said.
Also supporting the park concept were Mayor Dave Anderson and Councilman Mike Drennon. Anderson said the point of the park wasn't to make De Soto another Lenexa, but to get people from Lenexa and other places to visit and leave some of their money here.
Pointing to the experience of the boat ramp, Cannon said a river front park could potentially be popular.
"People said it would never be used, and it's used all the time," she said.
Although they had different views on the merits of the river front park concept, Drennon and Morse did share concern about how effective a scaled back effort would be in attracting visitors.
Last month, Pickert told the council the cost of the park's first phase -- which would include a festival area with carnival grounds, vendor corridor and stage -- was twice the $451,000 the council made available for its development in the current five-year capital improvement plan. However, he said there were items that could be cut and immediately set about developing alternatives the city could afford.
Last Thursday, Pickert shared three alternatives costing $438,000, $676,000 and $920,000. What all three shared in common was clearing and grading at the eastern section of the property near the current city brush pile, which Pickert said was about 25 percent of the lowest estimate. Also included in all estimates was the extension of power from the northwest end of the power to the proposed festival area near the middle of the site.
What was not a part of any of the three alternatives were restroom facilities. Pickert said the cost of facilities and sewer infrastructure would be about $430,000.
The most inexpensive of those options wouldn't develop a park capable of being the home to the De Soto Chamber of Commerce's barbecue contest and popular blues and barbecue concert, it was agreed.
In addition to the initial clearing and grading, the cheapest option would provide a gravel entrance into the park, complete about half of a large kidney-bean-shaped gravel surface drive and grading of a four-acre festival area.
Improvements at that scale would provide parking for about 200 vehicles, Pickert said.
The second option would complete the kidney-shaped in gravel, grade and seed the carnival area, install some storm drainage elements in the amphitheater and place a stage in the festival area, Pickert said.
The third option would complete the drive in asphalt and grade and seed the area below 79th street.
Guilfoyle said if the goal was to have events at the park next fall a decision on the funding level -- if any -- would have be made once he presented the results of his grant search. One grant of $10,000 from the Kansas Fish and Wildlife Department was a near certainty, he said. But it would have to be spent on improving river access such as additional boat ramp parking or a proposed tent campsite and not features included in phase one.