As part of the Choice Neighborhood Initiative for the Paseo Gateway Project, Independence Plaza Park will be undergoing some major renovations.
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 as well as support for revitalization of Pendleton Heights and portions of the Paseo West and Independence Plaza neighborhoods, known collectively as the Paseo Gateway.
Choice Neighborhoods is focused on three core aspects: Housing, People, and Neighborhood. To address each area, Choice Neighborhoods aims to replace distressed public and assisted housing with high-quality, mixed-income housing, improve outcomes of households living in the target housing, and to create the conditions necessary for public and private reinvestment in distressed neighborhoods to offer various amenities and assets, including safety, good schools, and commercial activity.
With roughly 70 percent of the funds going toward the housing projects, the remaining is split between the “people” and “neighborhood” portion of the project with approximately $3.5 million allocated to fund the neighborhood piece, which includes renovations to the park.
The current state of Independence Plaza Park is a hotspot for unwanted activity, said Chase Johnson, development specialist for the City of Kansas City, Missouri.
“It’s basically underutilized. It’s been identified as a hotspot for illegal activity and crime within the area and it’s been on Independence Plaza and Pendleton Heights’ radar for a while,” he said. “It’s surrounded by fencing and a barricade, which is a barrier to entry, so it’s not very inviting to the neighborhoods to use.”
Looking at the current design of the park, which is split up into two portions: one on the north portion of Independence Avenue and one on the south, there are high fences, limited lighting, dilapidated playground equipment, minimal visibility into the park, benches placed far away from the main road, and few entry points.
Acquired in 1896, the 1.73 acres of land was significant in the early development of Kansas City’s park system.
The 1909 Parks Board report said Independence Plaza Park “is one of Kansas City’s park object lessons most impressive to strangers. It shows what a small area carefully and intelligently improved will do for a surrounding neighborhood.”
With the grant, the park will see several changes including completely new, innovative, state-of-the-art playground equipment on the west side of the north portion of the park.
Johson said there are plans to incorporate a rope playground and a zipline into the play area.
This area sits directly to the east of Scuola Vita Nuova Charter School, which Johnson said offers the most valid and immediate use for the park.
Additional entry points will also be added to the north portion. Currently, there is an entry to the east, west, and south, but Johnson said they are working on adding entry points near the intersection of Brooklyn Avenue and Park Avenue.
The fence will be lowered around the north portion of the park and completely removed on the south portion.
This will allow children who use the playground equipment on the north portion to have some security between themselves and Independence Avenue, but also allow a clearer line of visibility.
The east side of the north portion of the park will be used for programming in partnership with the artists and residents at Pendleton Arts Block, located to the east of the park.
Johnson said there will also be new LED lighting throughout both portions of the park, as well as updated landscaping and walkway improvements.
The south portion of the park will have no fencing, and ideally have a canopy for farmers markets or food trucks, community events, and programs.
The two fountains will be removed and replaced with new landscaping and art installations.
Johnson said he hopes this overhaul provides a space for the community to gather and enjoy.
“I hope it develops a gathering space,” he said. “I hope people are going to be excited about it. The key to the whole thing is sustaining that momentum, so we’ll need to make sure to keep it programmed. There are a lot of opportunities for placemaking and for different cultural events to sustain the improvements and overall aesthetic of the park.”
When designing the park, Johnson said all park improvements or renovations must go through an approval process that includes requirements for implementing Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) aspects.
CPTED is a method of purposely designing the built environment to create safer neighborhoods. For Independence Plaza Park, this includes lowering the fence, increasing lighting, improving pedestrian walkways, removing large shrubs, updating landscaping, and most importantly, getting more people utilizing the park.
Johnson said the project manager with Parks and Recreation will potentially bid the project out early next year, depending on the weather, so a timeline has not been put in place for these renovations.
To learn more about the Choice Neighborhood Initiative Paseo Gateway Project, visit www.paseogateway.com.