816 North

Highland Gardens makes pitch for Kansas City park renovation

When Jake and Tonya Sapp moved into a modest ranch on North Highland about seven years ago, they knew they had found the ideal location to call home.

The neighborhood in the 5500 block of North Highland featured well-kept residences dotting a tree-lined route where an assortment of multigenerational and working-class families lived.

Across the street, a large swing and other playground equipment that is part of the 16-acre Davidson Park. Families from nearby homes made daily visits because of the ample space for children to play, said Tonya Sapp.

One little girl played on the swing almost every day, Sapp fondly recalls. It didn’t matter, rain or shine, the little girl was always there, she said.

“It was really enjoyable to watch her and other people over there,” Sapp said.

About three years later, city crews removed the playground equipment. Soon after, nearby residents began calling city officials to find out what had happened to it.

“We were under the impression that they were going to give us new equipment because the other equipment was kind of old, but nothing happened,” said Sapp, who now has a 4-year-old son and a 2-year-old daughter. “It is frustrating because it just a big empty field there now.”

Wanting to restore the playground, the Highland Gardens Neighborhood Association recently applied for funding through the Public Improvements Advisory Committee, which recommends how to spend tens of millions of dollars on building projects throughout Kansas City. Neighborhood leaders say they hope their request will be among projects funded next year.

“This is just one of the many ways that is vital for us to invest in one another,” said Kim Gasperi, association president. “We need this park for all of our neighbors so our relationships can grow.”

The city parks department recently received a grant that would help replace the equipment, said Parks Superintendent Forest Decker.

The department plans to spend about $55,000 for new slides, swings and other equipment suitable for children age 2 to 12 years old. The previous equipment was outdated and did not meet federal safety standards, Decker said.

Gasperi said the neighborhood association has not been alerted about the new equipment and will continue to prod city officials to restore the park as a hub of outdoor activity.

The group also wants to add a community garden, construct a covered pavilion, install barbecue pits, park benches and a walking trail. .

The park sits in the heart of the neighborhood, centrally located for about 950 homes. An ideal gathering location, it would serve as an anchor for the multicultural community, Gasperi said.

A refurbished park also would compliment the nearby Antioch Crossing, which is under construction at the intersections of Antioch Road, Vivion Road and Chouteau Trafficway. Once complete, the 512,000-square-foot facility will feature retail shops, restaurants and offices. Plans include market-rate senior housing.

The initial feedback from the advisory committee was positive but the city has limited funding and the request from Highland Gardens and would be considered along with other requests, Gasperi said.

The committee is early in the process of reviewing requests and no funding decisions have been made, said Paul Masao Matsuoka, a committee member who represents the portion of the city that includes Highland Gardens.

“They are all good projects, but it is just that we have a finite amount of dollars to assign,” Matsuoka said. “Because it is on the front end, we certainly can do everything we can to get this thing going.”