More than a year after it was first proposed, a plan to add a permanent amphitheater to Prairie Village’s Harmon Park remains in limbo.
The City Council on Monday considered three options for renovating Harmon and Santa Fe parks, but ultimately took no action, pushing the issue off to a future meeting.
Councilwoman Brooke Morehead proposed the so-called Village Square concept in late 2016 as a way to give the annual Prairie Village JazzFest a permanent home and create a regular attraction for other outdoor performances and the community at-large.
“Being in the center of our city — surrounded by schools, shopping centers, churches and senior housing — we have a wonderful opportunity to create more than a park,” Morehead said Monday. “We can create a unique destination and indeed a city icon.”
Public Works Director Keith Bredehoeft presented the council with three options developed by BBN Architects Inc., which are based on a master plan for the park created in 2009 but never constructed.
The first option, estimated to cost $5.2 million, would build a permanent performance pavilion at the bottom of Harmon Park Hill on the current location of the skate park and do extensive landscaping to the hillside to expand the amount of grass seating from around 27,300 square feet to almost 42,000 square feet.
The skate park, which is already scheduled for extensive renovation, would be moved to a spot just north of the planned new Consolidated Fire District No. 2 station, and the concrete structure at the top of Harmon Park Hill would be replaced with a large picnic pavilion.
The plan also would add a walking trail around the perimeter of the park, a “splash pad” children’s water feature, and two new playgrounds, including an “inclusive” playground that could accommodate children with disabilities.
The second option, estimated to cost $3.5 million, would complete most of the improvements included in option one except for the permanent performance pavilion. Instead, it would build a concrete performance pad on the skate park’s current location to support a temporary stage during concerts, similar to how the park operates now.
The third option, costing an estimated $3 million, would essentially stick to the 2009 master plan. It would renovate instead of move the skate park and not include the expanded grass seating area. It could add an upgraded concrete performance pad to the skate park for an extra $50,0000.
It would also still include walking trails, renovated shelters and restrooms, a destination play area near the Santa Fe historic trail ruts and extensive landscaping.
Bredehoeft said that none of the option price tags included expected renovations to the Harmon Park pool complex. He added that, aside from expected renovations to the skate park, none of the options are currently part of the city’s five-year budget of capital improvement projects.
Some council members identified the parts they liked, such as the expanded grass seating area or the inclusive playground of options one and two.
“I want the inclusive playground; that’s something we don’t have in our parks portfolio,” Councilman Tucker Poling said.
Councilman Ted Odell said he supported the full Village Square concept.
“I think the JazzFest and the additional uses we can get from the park would be outstanding,” Odell said. “I think this council really needs to focus on how do we build it and where do we get the dollars from than going back and trying to change a 9-year-old master plan.”
But several other council members said they didn’t believe there was public support for the expense of a permanent performance space and wondered where the city would get the money. They noted that among attendees at two public input sessions held in November, comments for and against the idea were tied 50-50.
Councilman Chad Herring said he felt the amphitheater would need to be rented out for events several times a year to make financial sense, but he hadn’t yet seen information on that kind of demand or how the city would pay for managing and scheduling the events.
“If we don’t have that, we need to tap our brakes and maybe go with option three,” Herring said.
Councilman Terrence Gallagher noted that he visited some city-owned amphitheaters in Gladstone and Lee’s Summit and found out few people rented those for events. He also pointed out that the famous “Jazz in the Woods” festival held in Overland Park was currently suspended because of financing troubles.
“Is that something that is dying off in this area and we can’t support two music festivals?” Gallagher said. “I can’t support a permanent structure there.”
Councilman Dan Runion questioned the entire project and said the city had much larger budget problems to fix such as fully funding the police department pension, which he said was only 72 percent funded at the end of 2016.
“I think we ought to have a discussion on a plan that says we’re going to address our needs in a responsible manner before we set upon adopting something like this,” Runion said.
In other business, the council chose not to vote on a slate of recommended changes in how the city organizes and appoints its citizen committees.
Among the recommendations was creating a “Prairie Village volunteer corps” to more efficiently connect residents with service opportunities, shrinking the size of the parks and recreation committee, and eliminating the city’s environmental committee.
Several council members said they opposed disbanding the environmental committee and voted to send the proposals back to the body considering committee changes to revisit the recommendations.
The council also voted to hire a private collections agency to take over the job of tracking down unpaid municipal court fines and fees. Topeka-based Collection Bureau of Kansas Inc., or CBK, will receive 30 percent of all amounts collected.
Municipal court officials suggested the change to reduce the court’s reliance on arrest warrants to get people to pay, a practice that has attracted criticism across the country in recent years.
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