Independence Plaza Park, on Independence Avenue between Brooklyn and Park Avenue, will soon undergo a nearly $1 million renovation.
Project Manager Jordan Cline, landscape architect with the Kansas City Parks and Recreation Planning and Design Division, said planners hope to begin construction early this fall.
They are working with the finance department, the human relations department and contract administration to make sure they have everything they need before they bid out the project, Cline said.
In conversations with the neighborhood and stakeholder group, there was a push to make the area more usable.
“It’s almost a passive park, at this point,” Cline said. “People kind of just look in there, as opposed to actually using it.”
Removal of two fountains in the south section of the park will bring Kansas City’s public fountain count down to 46. When installed, the three-tiered, identical fountains were circled by bricks with sidewalks criss-crossing through the symmetrical park; however, one fountain was previously destroyed.
“The way that I believe the pump works, the way that the electrical works, everything, I think they both have to be operational for that to take place, so we’re just going to take them out,” Cline said.
According to designs, the plan is to replace one fountain on the south side of the park with a 30 by 50 foot high-roofed pavilion with a concrete pad.
“It’s going to be rather large so it can house farmers’ markets or performances, et cetera, whatever neighborhood summer events they would like to have out there,” Cline said. “We’re going to make the foundation that it’s on a little wider than the shelter itself so that way food trucks can have a stable bit of ground to sit on.”
The other fountain will be replaced with an art installation, which Cline said is a good use of the space for all of the emerging artists in the neighborhood.
The 1.73-acre park, which is divided by Independence Boulevard, was significant in the early development of Kansas City’s park system.
Landscape architect George Kessler praised the park in the 1909 Park Board report.
“Independence Plaza Park is one of Kansas City’s park object lessons most impressive to strangers,” Kessler said in the report. “It shows what a small area carefully and intelligently improved will do for a surrounding neighborhood. Two half-blocks, on opposite sides of the boulevard, transformed into a park, with trees, shrubbery, walks and seats, have had a redeeming and elevating influence on that section of the city.”
In recent years however, the park has become a “hotspot for illegal activity,” Chase Johnson, development specialist for the city, told the Northeast News in November.
On the north side of the park, the playground will be replaced. A walking trail will also be created around the perimeter of the playground.
The new playground is designed in a way that nothing can be hidden from view. The see-through concept will provide an added level of visibility and safety.
Cline said the park will be made “more inviting” by removing some of the fences and replacing other sections with lower fences, leaving the corners open to allow for more exit and entry points.
“That’s going to be for safety purposes to have better visibility into the park,” Cline said. “Especially on the south side, there’s only one entry and exit there. If you were in there just enjoying the park by yourself, you don’t really have a way out if somebody blocks that exit.”
All improvements and renovations will be subject to an approval process that includes requirements for implementing Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) aspects.
CPTED is a multi-disciplinary approach to crime prevention that uses urban and architectural design and the management of built and natural environments to create safer neighborhoods.
Qualifying renovations include lowering the fence, increasing lighting, improving pedestrian walkways, removing large shrubs, updating landscaping and getting more people to utilize the park.
According to the organization, strategies aim to reduce victimization, deter offender decisions that precede criminal acts, and build a sense of community among residents so they can gain control of areas, reduce crime and minimize fear of crime.
The park is surrounded by two replacement housing sites on the north side, as well as Scuola Vita Nuova Charter School.
“Though central to the housing plan, the park is currently underutilized and is a crime hotspot in the neighborhood due to the proximity of a neighboring liquor store,” according to a project description. “The City will continue to own and maintain improvements made to Independence Plaza Park.”
Improvements to the park will be environmentally friendly, like upgrading existing lighting elements to LED and reducing water waste by removing the fountains, Cline said.
The renovations are part of the Choice Neighborhood Initiative for the Paseo Gateway Project.
In January 2016, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) executed a five-year, $30 million Choice Neighborhoods Implementation (CNI) grant for the Paseo Gateway project site.
The grant included support for revitalizing Pendleton Heights and portions of the Paseo West and Independence Plaza neighborhoods, known collectively as the Paseo Gateway.
The Choice Neighborhood project focuses on three core aspects: housing, people, and neighborhood.
Nearly 70% of the funds went toward replacing distressed public and assisted housing with high-quality, mixed-income housing.
In December 2019, the city announced the completion of Phase 3 of the initiative, Pendleton ArtsBlock, a 38-unit mixed-income development.
Approximately $3.5 million was allocated to fund the neighborhood portion of the project, which includes the park’s renovations.
The renovations will be funded in part by $800,000 from the HUD grant, which requires a local match from the Department of Parks and Recreation in the amount of $135,000.
On June 9, the Board of Parks and Recreation Commissioners passed a resolution for that amount at the recommendation of Senior Planner Richard Allen.