WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — A Wichita park that was once synonymous with homelessness, drunkenness and drug use is celebrating a new reality — popularity due to its new design and community events. Now, that popularity is forcing a change from natural grass to artificial turf.

Naftzger Park, 601 E. Douglas, was remodeled and reopened in 2021 as an outdoor gathering space for residents and visitors and a place to relax between stops at nearby businesses. It has a stage, dog run, water feature, lots of natural grass and some artificial grass.

Naftzger Park natural grass and artificial turf on Dec. 13, 2022 (KSN Photo)

It has been a success. But so many people have tramped across the real grass that the City Parks and Recreation Department has had trouble maintaining the lawn. So by December 2021, the department told the City it would need to use some of its Capital Improvement Program (CIP) funding to switch to artificial turf. The City Council approved it for 2022.

However, another Parks and Recreation project, replacing the Swanson Park pedestrian bridge for safety issues, ended up costing more than planned and ate into Naftzger Park’s turf money.

So, at Tuesday’s Wichita City Council meeting, Troy Houtman, director of Wichita Parks and Recreation, told the Council that the Naftzger Park project is now part of the department’s 2023 park enhancements:

  • Naftzger Park – install artificial turf
  • Edgemoor Park – plaza will be fixed so that rainwater doesn’t keep running into the building
  • Other parks – replacement of picnic tables, trash cans, and bleachers as needed
  • Any safety issues that need to be addressed

The Wichita 2023-2032 Adopted CIP includes $550,000 for park facility improvements in 2023.

Before the Council adopted the measure, Celeste Racette, founder of the Save Century II group, had a question about the money. Racette said the group’s mission has changed to provide oversight of City Hall financial statements and transactions.

“When we created that CID (Community Improvement District) for Naftzger Park, part of the agreement included … 10% of the surcharge on that CID goes back to maintaining Naftzger Park,” she said.

Racette asked why the City isn’t using that CID money for the artificial turf.

“My understanding is that we do have funds in the CID fund but not enough to really make any difference,” Houtman said. “The plan is, for that, is to continue to build up that fund, and as we might need some more funds, later on, we can actually use that for Naftzger Park and some of the surrounding areas.”

After his comment, the City Council voted unanimously to approve the Parks and Recreation request.