Government & Politics

Despite a vocal ‘save the gazebo’ protest, OP council moves ahead on park revamp

Are changes coming to the Overland Park Farmers’ Market?

Here are the four options presented from a consultant to the city of Overland Park on ways to improve Santa Fe Commons Park and the farmers market. The council chose to let the market stay in its current spot. Music Spy Glass
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Here are the four options presented from a consultant to the city of Overland Park on ways to improve Santa Fe Commons Park and the farmers market. The council chose to let the market stay in its current spot. Music Spy Glass

In a last-ditch effort, Johnson County residents who have passionately opposed a planned revitalization of Santa Fe Commons Park tried one more time to persuade elected officials to reconsider in the final hour.

“This is our last chance to get them to postpone,” former Overland Park business owner Roger Peugeot told The Star ahead of the “save the gazebo” protest he helped organize outside the doors of City Hall before a Monday council meeting. If not, he said, “this may be the end of it.”

It was. At least for protesters’ hopes to stall plans to demolish the 3.8 acre park’s gazebo/bandstand in favor of a new open-air performance stage resembling a paper airplane.

“There is a division in the community, there is no doubt about that,” Councilman Dave White said. “But that doesn’t mean that those that yell the loudest win.”

The council voted 10-2 to award a contract to Mega Industries Corp. of North Kansas City for changes that, in addition to construction of the stage, include new restrooms, two open-air shelters, sidewalks, on-street parking spaces, an outdoor workspace with Wi-Fi and a play area with a crawl tunnel and climbing structure.

Council members Faris Farasatti and Gina Burke voted against awarding a bid and said they would support pausing construction to allow for more conversations with concerned citizens.

But most City Council members showed no desire to halt planned improvements to the soon-to-be-renamed Thompson Park, a project many council members pointed out had been vetted thoroughly in public meetings since last summer.

“There has been plenty of time for input,” Mayor Carl Gerlach said.

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Plans call for construction of a new performance stage that resembles a paper airplane. Courtesy RDG Planning & Design

Though final plans calls for the demolition of the gazebo/bandstand to make way for the performance stage, the city plans to preserve the historic Strang Carriage House and carriage plaza, built in the early 1900s. Plans also call for replacing several dozen dead trees at the park, located at 8045 Santa Fe Drive.

Mega Industries, which submitted a $3.6 million bid for the park project, beat out a $3.7 million bid from Straub Construction Co. of Shawnee. A third company submitted an invalid bid.

The winning bid surpasses the city’s $3 million budget — which includes a $1 million donation from retired car dealer and philanthropist Frank Thompson, whom the park will be named for.

A revitalization has been in the works since last year, when a consulting group commissioned by the city studied ways to draw more visitors to the park and came up with four design plans. Early public forums were dominated by discussions surrounding an unpopular change found in two of those plans — moving the Overland Park Farmers’ Market to the park.

Instead the City Council last fall approved a “Park Stroll” concept that would keep the market where it is and update the park’s aging infrastructure, demolish the gazebo and invest in the park’s green space. Several opponents said it was not clear until months later that the city was pursuing an alternative after abandoning moving the Farmer’s Market.

The Overland Park Planning Commission signed off on a final improvement plan in February.

Entrance and carriage house at Santa Fe Commons Park. Overland Park is exploring improvements to make the park more vibrant. Lynn Horsley

Roughly 30 people who gathered outside City Hall on Monday holding “save the gazebo” signs said they saw the structure as historic and wanted a plan that preserves it. The gazebo was built in the 1980s and designed in the style of the Strang Carriage House. Others criticized the cost of the project and the name change.

And though the paper airplane is meant to pay homage to Overland Park’s aviation history — William B. Strang’s Overland Park airfield was the first west of the Mississippi — some said the design didn’t match the character of the park.

“I think it’s just a distasteful image,” said Lillian Pintar, a Lenexa resident who grew up in Overland Park. “And it contradicts the image of the traditional downtown Overland Park.”

But several council members signaled it was time to hop aboard a new vision.

“The train has left the station,” White said. “Downtown Overland Park is changing. You may not like it, but it is changing and we have to be able to hit that mark of the new people that will be living in downtown Overland Park, which are going to be younger, more vibrant and use that park because it’s going to have the amenities that they want.”

He said others, from local bands to community groups, want a performance stage that will have a sound system and more visibility.

Janiece Vohland, a Strang Line neighborhood leader who served on the park improvement steering committee, said changes are about drawing more visitors to a park that is often empty.

“The gazebo is lovely to look at but it’s not very functional,” Vohland said.

On Monday evening, citizens filed out of the council meeting in dismay after the vote, which clears the way for construction to begin this summer before a planned reopening late this year.

“We’re moving on,” said Ralph Beck, a resident who has also organized opposition to the park improvements — “to the next election.”

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Katy Bergen covers Johnson County for The Kansas City Star. She is a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism.