By Roxie Hammill
One-third of the cost of upgrading Santa Fe Commons Park will be paid with a donation of $1 million by retired Overland Park businessman Frank Thompson and his wife, Evangeline. When work is finished, the park will be renamed “Thompson Park,” the city has agreed.
The Overland Park City Council Monday accepted the donation and the renaming. The park will eventually bear a sign linking the name to the Thompsons, who have been community philanthropists. The agreement also says the donation will be made in two parts: $500,000 on approval of the plans, and $500,000 on the death of the Thompsons’ survivor.
The 3.8-acre park in downtown Overland Park has been under consideration as a new site for the Farmers Market. That idea has proved controversial, though, and some of that has spilled over into plans to redo the park. Although no decision has been made about moving the market, public input meetings on the park have drawn big crowds, with some people expressing suspicion that the city will move the market regardless of public objections and that the park improvement plans are a part of that.
So far the plans include a performance area, gathering spaces and new play equipment. Some neighbors who turned out at a recent meeting on park design said they didn’t mind improvements in restrooms and some existing structures, but they preferred the park remain close to unchanged.
City council members and staffers thanked the Thompsons and praised Frank as a business leader who has been a cornerstone of Overland Park since opening his dealership from a rehabbed house in 1967.
“Every time I meet with him I’ve learned new things about Overland Park, about the history, about downtown,” said city parks services director Greg Ruether.
Thompson did not attend the council meeting. “It’s very typical of Frank not to be here,” said Mayor Carl Gerlach. “He is quiet and doesn’t like a lot of publicity so, sure, he wouldn’t show up for something like this.” Thompson “just wants to make the town better,” Gerlach said. Thompson could not be reached for comment.
Thompson, long-time owner of Overland Park Jeep at 80th Street and Metcalf Avenue, is well-known for his philanthropy and love of classic cars. Last year he auctioned off cars from his own collection to raise $600,000 for St. Luke’s Hospital. He has also supported cancer and Alzheimer’s research, school lunches and rehabbed houses for homeless veterans.
The $3 million park improvement project is still in the public input stage. Ruether said a construction schedule will depend on what features are in the final design. But he hopes to have work done by the end of 2019.