Back in 2008, with the prospects for the long-running private golf course continuing to be able to operate on the land flagging, Meadowbrook Country Club leaders and Johnson County officials began discussing the possibility of the county buying the land for use as a public park.
The Johnson County Park and Recreation District had long ago identified that northeast Johnson County was underserved with county park land, and that opportunities to bring new parks and programming to the area were limited given the fact that square mileage inside the 435 loop was essentially built out with no significant undeveloped land left.
So when those initial talks fell apart, some in the county resigned themselves to the fact that the opportunity to turn the golf club into a new Johnson County Park and Recreation District park had passed. VanTrust Real Estate entered an agreement to purchase the club and its land.
A few years later, though, as VanTrust started to plan out uses for the property, talks with the county — and Prairie Village officials — began anew. After months of negotiation, the parties announced a unique agreement that would allow 80 acres of the land to be turned into a new county park. A tax-increment financing district covering the private development would produce revenue that the parks district would use to help pay for the parkland and improvements.
On Saturday, that vision years in the making became a reality as city, county and business leaders marked the grand opening of the new Meadowbrook Park in Prairie Village. Hundreds of residents gathered on the site to check out the new park features, from the “treeline adventure” destination playground…:
…to the grand lawn, trails and shelters…:
In comments ahead of the ribbon cutting, County Chair Ed Eilert noted that collaborative efforts between the various entities had been key to securing the land’s future as a park. And, he noted, the use of TIF financing was crucial to the deal that brought the project to fruition.
“These days there’s a lot of discussion about special taxing districts. Some good and some not so good,” Eilert said. “This one really made a difference. Without the benefit of that special taxing district, I don’t think we would be here today.”
Eilert made special note of the work of former Prairie Village Mayor Laura Wassmer in moving negotiations on the project forward, and thanked current Mayor Eric Mikkelson for continuing the momentum.
In his remarks at the ribbon cutting, Mikkelson echoed the sentiment about the unique collaboration that made the project possible. Saying the park was an asset that would “strengthen the souls” of people who used it, Mikkelson said that the proceedings that made it possible were notably absent of squabbling or opposition.
“Councils do not agree on every issue. We do not always coordinate perfectly between the city and the county. Sometimes political parties take opposing views on even local or regional issues. And sometimes neighbors present intractable disputes when a major change affects their neighborhood,” Mikkelson said. “But this project was different from the beginning.”
Weather, engineering issues cause long delays
Getting from the point where the deal was signed to the grand opening was not without its problems, however. The earliest target opening date was fall 2017, but parks officials moved that back to April 2018 soon after the parks board approved the construction of the clubhouse/community center building on the property. When work began, planners determined they had to reengineer and reconstruct the spillway for ponds at the center of the property — an addition that added months to the timeline. Coupled with a bad string of winter weather and copious rain earlier this year, the official opening date ended up being a full year and a half after the initial projections.
But the consensus on Saturday morning seemed clear: The wait was worth it. In Meadowbrook Park, northeast Johnson County has a space where families will gather to make memories that will last a lifetime.
“JCPRD is all about making memories,” said Johnson County Park and Recreation District executive director Jill Geller at the ribbon cutting.