Effort to save downtown Overland Park gazebo fails as council votes to move forward with Santa Fe Commons project

Protestors gathered outside city hall ahead of Monday’s meeting holding signs urging the council to save the downtown Overland Park gazebo. Photo credit Roxie Hammill.

A neighborhood group trying to save the 1980s-era gazebo in downtown Overland Park went away disappointed Monday after the city council voted to award a bid for construction.

Around 30 people holding “Save Our Gazebo” signs had hoped to stop or at least pause a complete redo of Thompson Park because of the gazebo, which was built with a similar look to the historic carriage house in the park. Council members, however, said they had plenty of chances to object during multiple public input sessions held since last summer.

The gazebo was constructed in the 1980s with design elements to make it match the historic carriage house at the park.

“If we hadn’t had five public hearings that have gone on for seven months I might agree that we need to have more public input,” said Mayor Carl Gerlach. To change course now would be to disrespect the majority of the people, who are for the design, he said.

No public comments were allowed as council members discussed whether to award a $3.6 million bid to Mega Industries Corporation, but that didn’t stop the group from applauding and, at times, responding loudly to points the council members raised. One man interrupted as council members cast their final votes, angrily asking why there would not be a chance to comment. He left after being told he was out of order.

One of the group leaders, Roger Peugeot, said the residents will consider what other options – legal or otherwise – they have. But he and Ralph Beck, another organizer, acknowledged their choices are limited.

Beck said the people objecting mostly don’t want to see the gazebo torn down and don’t like the design of the new open-air stage, which has a roof resembling a paper airplane.

“It’s so far removed from the historical traditional character of the park and downtown,” he said. Designers proposed the paper airplane as a reference to a former airfield near downtown.

Council says renovation will make park a true gathering spot

An early rendering showing the concept for the airplane shaped performance structure planned for the park renovations.

Opponents would like to keep the gazebo and added that if both structures were in the park, the gazebo could be used for picnics, weddings and other events, with the stage available for concerts.

But some council members countered that the gazebo is deteriorating and is not a good space for band concerts. Opponents have said their own expert disagrees about the integrity of the gazebo.

Council members who voted for the bid said the park has been underused and the renovation is needed to provide the vibrant downtown gathering space called for in its long-range visioning plan. “The Overland Park that I remember as a kid died. It died in the ‘70s and the ‘80s,” said Councilmember David White, adding that the gazebo is not historic but a replica of structures of days gone by. “We are not building this park for you and me. This park is being built for people that are in their teens and twenties and thirties.”

People moving into the new apartments will be younger and more vibrant and they will like the more modern design, White said. He said he also got emails supporting the design.

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

However Councilmember Faris Farassati, one of two who voted against the bid, said it wouldn’t hurt anything to delay the building and hear the opponents out. He also contested White’s statement about who the park is being built for.

“This park is not being built for a certain age bracket. That’s not true. It’s for every citizen of Overland Park,” Farassati said.

Council members said the park design meetings were well attended and that ample chances were given to public input before the final design was voted on. But the group members contended they were so interested in keeping the Farmers’ Market from being moved there that they didn’t notice the gazebo was not included.

Mayor Carl Gerlach also said he received an email from Frank Thompson, whose donation will pay for part of the renovation. Thompson wanted to make sure people knew that despite some rumors, he was involved in the park planning and supports the design, Gerlach said.

The park bid is only the latest flare-up among residents who are uneasy with major changes coming to downtown. The park redesign got its start when council members considered whether the Farmers’ Market should have a new home there. That idea fizzled after a vocal neighborhood pushback. Neighbors have also worried about parking shortages with the Edison office and retail project, as well as the new apartment complexes opening up.

When finished the park will also have new restrooms, a plaza, playground, water features, concrete pathway and outdoor work space.