It took less than a minute Monday night for the Overland Park City Council to finally settle months of debate over whether to move the Farmers Market into a downtown park.
No, the council said. The Farmers Market will not relocate to Santa Fe Commons Park. With that unanimous voice vote, council members gave the go-ahead to city staff to put the question behind them and begin working with consultants on the finer points of a redesign for the park, which is soon to be renamed Thompson Park.
Following the previous recommendation of the park improvement steering committee, the council decided to go ahead with the Park Stroll plan that will leave almost all the trees intact and provide a performance venue at the south end of the park. The plan calls for open green space, the preservation of the carriage house and shelters accessible for residents of Santa Fe Towers, as well as adult play areas and other gathering spaces.
Upgrading the park has long been on the city’s to-do list, but it took on special importance when council members began to talk last year about how to ease growing pains at the popular market. As city leaders and a consultant began to explore the idea of a park design that included the market, neighbors came out to object.
The idea became a focal point for all the negative effects they said the rapid downtown growth is having on their homes, especially parking.
‘Our first urban park’
At an earlier committee meeting Monday, council members said they had become convinced that the park would strengthen downtown and provide needed recreational space for all the people moving into the new apartments under construction, as well as the existing park neighbors.
“What we’re really building is our first urban park,” said Councilmember Curt Skoog.
Councilmember Dave White echoed that. “With all the new residents in downtown we need to provide them with a cohesive good green space,” he said. Moving the market would also create a new question – what to do with the vacated space. “It makes a heck of a lot of sense to keep the park, keep the farmers market where it is,” he said.
Councilmember Richard Collins said he initially liked the idea of moving the market, but gradually changed his mind because of the “awkward” configuration for loading and unloading vendors’ trucks in the stalls. And people at the most recent city visioning open house voted heavily in favor of a large open gathering space, he noted.
The vote does not address the question of how to increase space for the farmers market. Having it in the park would have added about 25 percent more capacity, said Greg Ruether, director of park services. But some council members noted that the recent purchase of a downtown car wash next to the market should help at least a little.
The design for the 3.8-acre park is still preliminary. So far, it calls for looping walkways and designs for some new structures that will mimic features of the carriage house. The performance area is still represented in renderings with a paper-airplane-shaped roof, a reference to an airfield that existed in Overland Park years ago.
A more detailed design will be presented to the city planning commission, possibly in January. If everything goes smoothly, work could begin in March or April. Ruether said he hopes to have work completed before the end of 2019.
Improvements will be paid partly from a $1 million donation from local philanthropists Frank and Evangeline Thompson.