Park land for sale aims to spur neighborhood collaboration

Elizabeth Orosco
Northeast News

Kansas City Board of Parks and Recreation Commissioners has voted to put 55 acres of park land up for sale.

The acres are divided among four parks: the north portion of Lykins Square Park, part of Van Brunt Park, a large portion of Hodge Park, and the entirety of Belvidere Park.

Terry Rynard, Kansas City Parks Director, said the goal is to make the “highest and best use of our greatest resource, which is our land.”

Roughly two to three years ago, the Parks Department commissioned a study to be done on the parks to assess the land.

“The study showed us where we were strong in park land and short in park land across the whole 320 square miles,” said Rynard.

As part of that assessment, Rynard said one major question surfaced regarding the land:

“Should we wait for people to come to us with a proposal if they wanted to use park space or should we be thinking about opportunities to partner, or in some cases, dispose of land for a greater community good?”

Belvidere Park will be entirely up for sale. This park sits just behind the vacated buildings that made up Chouteau Courts. The triangular space is cut off on each side by Interstate 35, Paseo extension, and Independence Avenue.

In the August 2015 Parks Master Plan Update, Belvidere Park was rated “Poor” on the Park and Facility Assessment, meaning it was not well maintained, had trash and weeds, amenities were out of date, and appeared to be all but abandoned.

The housing units, which provided the park with the most use, have been fully vacated, fenced off, and are slated to be demolished as part of the Paseo Gateway Project. Demolition is estimated to begin August 1.

“It’s somewhat isolated, but when Chouteau Courts was open, it did provide good open space. You can’t get to it because it’s cut off by the highway and the back streets are closed off,” she said.

Rynard said the park has not seen any activity since Chouteau Courts was shut down.

“We have been asking ourselves if Belvidere has a higher and better use. Whether it’s for development, connectivity, pedestrians…we don’t know.”

Rynard said she is unsure what the future of the land will be, but there are lots of options, and she said she isn’t ruling out the possibility of some type of collaboration with the neighboring Chouteau Courts lot if it’s the best use of the land.

The land just north of Lykins Square Park is another portion of land on the list. This piece of land sits between 6th and 7th Streets, to the east of Norton. Rynard said there isn’t much happening on that land right now.

Currently, the land is mowed periodically, but never sees activity. An old set of stairs leads up to the lot where the old Lykins School used to be.

Rynard said there have been talks of building a community center in that space that would cater to the surrounding neighborhood. She recently attended a neighborhood meeting to ask what the community wanted to see out of that space.

“There seems to be a big desire for community space. On that one, when we start to get proposals, we would be looking for something that included community room or community space. During the RFQ process, we’d be interested in someone having the vision of creating a civic common indoor space.”

Rynard said that if a Request for Qualification (RFQ) is put out explaining what the neighborhood and Parks Board would like to see from the land, and no one comes forth with a similar proposal, the Parks Board does not have to accept any of the offers.

“We can just say we’ll keep the land. We are going to have a lot of leverage on encouraging the things the neighborhoods are telling us they want to see on these spaces,” she said.

The portion of Van Brunt Park that sits below Van Brunt Boulevard and north of 17th Street is also up for sale.

The Girls Prep Academy asked the Parks Board about five or six months ago if they could have access to the land for recess and outdoor activities.

“It doesn’t really have a strong park purpose because it’s a right-of-way that’s isolated. I don’t suspect it will be of interest to anyone other than the school, but it’s possible that it will be.”

Hodge Park is the largest portion of the land put up for sale. North Kansas City School District has asked for this land to be used for a new school due to increased growth.

“We are hoping we can get a partnership on a community center that has been identified as being needed,” said Rynard. “There would be a lot of negotiation to come if it gets that far.”

The Parks Board is seeking permission from City Council to put these parcels on the ballot. The Council has the opportunity to approve or reject it being on the August ballot.

Once it goes on the ballot and if the voters approve it, the Parks Board will put out a Request for Qualification. An RFQ is typically used as a screening step to establish a pool of vendors that are qualified to then submit a Request for Proposal (RFP).

Rynard said during the RFQ process, the Board will be considering community value as a primary driver for why one proposal would be chosen over another.

“It’s a long way from anything happening and certainly the community would be involved through that process of looking at those proposals and deciding what enhances the neighborhood.”

City Council will hear it in the Neighborhoods and Public Safety Committee on Wednesday.

“The council and voters have traditionally been very supportive,” said Rynard.

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