A large and vocal crowd reacted negatively last week to potential concepts for moving the Overland Park Farmers’ Market to a nearby park.
Many also were critical of the idea of major changes even without moving the market to Santa Fe Commons Park.
“Leave it like it is,” said Byron Townsend, one of about 100 people who attended a July 19 meeting to discuss possible improvements to the park, at 8045 Santa Fe Drive, between Santa Fe Drive and Overland Park Drive in downtown Overland Park.
Townsend and others complained that they had suggested only modest changes to the park at a previous open house on the topic in June. The most outspoken attendees weren’t enthusiastic about the colorful and creative concepts aimed at making the park more vibrant.
Omaha-based RDG Planning & Design landscape architecture firm consultant Bruce Niedermyer said he understood the public’s skepticism and resistance to moving the farmers’ market from its current location at 7950 Marty St.
“This is what we expected,” he said of the passionate public reaction July 19. But he noted the firm’s instructions from the city were to come up with four specific conceptual plans: two including moving the market to the park, and two park-only concepts without a farmers market. That’s what they did.
The 3.8-acre park has passionate supporters who love it for its trees, bandstand, gazebos and green space. Many nearby residents said they want that green space preserved as the only natural setting in a downtown that’s full of concrete and buildings.
Niedermyer said the consultants appreciate that sentiment but argued the park is underused and needs better connections to the nearby Clocktower Plaza and Matt Ross Community Center. He emphasized all the ideas are suggestions to make the park a more attractive destination, and not something the city is forcing down the public’s throat.
The four concepts included:
▪ Active Green: preserving most of the trees and green space while adding more tables and chairs for dining and strands of overhead lights to create a more festive atmosphere; play areas, including possible table tennis or space for outdoor games; a sculptural piece that would also have a water feature in the summer; and a performance venue at the north end.
▪ Park Stroll: creating pleasant areas to stroll and relax, including hammocks; a possible shade structure and deck area; a spray jet water feature; an area for outdoor games; a garden space; and a performance space.
▪ Farmers’ Market North: building a covered vendors’ structure similar to today’s farmers’ market at the park’s north end, plus enhancements to the southern portions of the park.
▪ Market Loop: creating a narrower market footprint than the other farmers’ market concept but extending the building farther south along Overland Park Drive.
The city has $3 million budgeted for improvements, which would cover the park improvements themselves but not a new market. That cost would be paid for with other yet-to-be-determined funding sources.
Despite the strong sentiments for preserving as much of the current park as possible, some people said they liked the suggestions for more play areas for children, for dining sectors and for a new performance space.
“My focus is what the future is,” said Erin Zehner, who lives nearby and has two small children. “This is a very underused park. I think this is a great opportunity.”
And a few people, like Stephen Velie and John Pickett, said they thought moving the farmers’ market to the park has merit. Pickett said he thought the market could fit into the park if the city emphasized a “minimalist approach” to its impact on the rest of the green space.
Many people worried about the lack of parking spaces around the park, and wondered how a park that’s attracting more crowds will accommodate all those cars.
City officials noted that a new $53 million mixed-use office project called Edison OP has just been approved and construction is expected to start late this year. That project will include a parking garage with about 400 spaces available on nights and weekends.
The consultants will take feedback from the July 19 meeting and return for one more presentation at 6 p.m. Aug. 16 at Matt Ross Community Center, 8101 Marty St. That meeting will involve final concept review of a preferred park-only plan and a farmers’ market plan. Then it will be up to the City Council to decide how to proceed.