Voters to decide on selling 55 acres of park land on November ballot

**correction: in our print edition of Northeast News, we incorrectly highlighted the wrong portion of Van Brunt Park that will be for sale. The image online reflects the portion of land that voters will be asked to decide on. Our creative arts director regrets this error.

 

Elizabeth Orosco
Northeast News

Tuesday, Nov. 5, voters will decide if Kansas City Parks and Recreation will be able to sell 55 acres of park land.

The acres are divided among four parks: a small parcel of land north 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

Belvidere Park, in its entirety, will be up for sale. This 15.46-acre park was acquired in 1967 and sits just northeast of the vacated buildings that made up Chouteau Courts.

The triangular space is cut off on each side by Interstate 35, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd 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“poor” on the Park and Facility Assessment, meaning it was not well maintained, had trash and weeds, amenities were out of date, and appeared to be all but abandoned.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.

“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 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.

Christopher McKinney, Paseo Gateway community liaison, said the ultimate goal of the Paseo Gateway Project is to create an inclusive community.

“The goal is to  provide an improved quality of life for residents that were in the Chouteau Courts area and to address some other concerns in the neighborhoods. We work with Independence Plaza, Pendleton Heights and also Paseo West, trying to address those issues like vacant housing and bringing more residents to that area. When all the properties come online, one of the things we’ll be doing is putting on big events to help residents become more familiar with the area.”

He said one potential plan is to combine the park land with Chouteau Courts and the parcel of land where Mid-America Title Loans is currently located into one Request For Proposal (RFP) for a developer.

Lykins Square Park 

The .903-acre vacant property just north of 7th Street is another portion of land on the list. This piece of land sits between Norton and Jackson.

The rest of Lykins Square Park that sits between 7th and 8th Street is not up for sale and will remain a park for the community.

Rynard said there isn’t much happening on that north parcel 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 Elementary School used to be, but was torn down in the late 1990s.

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.

Gregg Lombardi, executive director of Lykins Neighborhood, said the Parks Department is committed with Lykins in making sure that whatever is placed on the lot is a community-enhancing use of the park.

Lombardi said the lot has been a source of blight for the community for many years.

“That land has been a dumping site, an area where people loiter, and rumors in the neighborhood say it’s a place of drug activity,” he said. “This change would convert the blight into good use and a major improvement for the neighborhood.”

The large portion of Lykins Square Park is actually undergoing a major renovation and will not be on the ballot.

In June, a group of 30 volunteer architects drafted plans for improving the park, including a pavilion, a walking trail, a promenade to host an open-air market.

Habitat for Humanity and Catholic Charities have also committed to constructing new homes around the park on 6th Street, Jackson, and Spruce.

Van Brunt Park 

Acquired in 1911, the 1.67-acre portion of Van Brunt Park that sits below Van Brunt Boulevard and north of 17th Street is also up for sale.

The Kansas City Girls Preparatory Academy (KCGPA) 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,” said Rynard.

Tom Krebs, CEO of KCGPA said the school hopes to turn the park land into a more inviting and useful community space.

“Community is a core value for us because we know the long-term growth of our students depends upon the community we serve,” he said.

Krebs added that while they don’t have final plans for the land, which is dependent on funding, they are currently pursuing funding to add sidewalks to improve accessibility and safety along Van Brunt, public exercise equipment along a walking trail around the perimeter of the park to create a more welcoming and healthy space for students, families, and the broader community, and free public WIFI, benches, and landscaping near the school building entry.

“We of course also want to preserve the beauty of the green space and trees,” he said.

The school is also considering expanding the building footprint over the existing visitor parking lot and potentially into the park to build more highschool classroom space as the school expands.

Hodge Park

Thirty-six acres of Hodge Park, which was acquired in 1967, is the largest portion of the land put up for sale.

The portion of the park that is up for sale is located in the northeast corner of the park off Northeast Shoal Creek Parkway.

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 Kansas City City Council voted to place these parcels on the November 5 ballot.

If voters approve selling the land, the Parks Board will put out a Request for Qualification (RFQ).

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

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