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City Council once again discussing major park project for northwest Wichita

An artist's rendering of Crystal Prairie Lake Park.
An artist's rendering of Crystal Prairie Lake Park.

The city has discussed building a recreation lake and park for more than a decade near Brooks Landfill.

Plans to fund the development of Crystal Prairie Lake Park have resurfaced in the City Council’s Capital Improvement Plan, with a hefty $25 million price tag.

The plans, first drafted more than a decade ago, outline the project as a 420-acre park with a 215-acre sand pit lake that would be built on land northwest of Brooks Landfill at K-96 and Hoover Road.

But with a multimillion dollar cost to taxpayers, some City Council members are hesitant to push the project forward in its current state while others still see the potential in the legacy project.

Council member Bryan Frye thinks the plans for Crystal Prairie Lake Park need to be totally reevaluated. And with the majority of the current council’s tenures being shorter than the history of the project, Frye said the council needs to learn more about it.

“It's just been this long project that I think a lot of people have forgotten about,” Frye said.

The land behind Brooks Landfill sits in District 6, City Council member Maggie Ballard’s district. She said she doesn’t feel prepared to support the project without knowing more about its goals and the budget constraints that may arise with its development.

With public safety in mind, she said she would rather prioritize maintaining existing infrastructure and supporting the long neglected core of the city.

“Until our fire department gets what they need, it's hard to focus on a huge recreation project of that size that could potentially be taken on by a private developer,” she said.

Wichita isn’t a stranger to private-public partnerships. Both the city and private developers have poured more than $120 million dollars into the Riverfront Stadium so far and, according to Ballard, the stands aren’t full every night.

“It scares me with those kinds of price tags … to kind of start another huge project when we're not done with the one that we have, and it's not even being fully supported to where I think it should be,” Ballard said.

Considering thesheer size of the infrastructure proposed, Frye isn’t convinced $25 million is going to cut it.

“Given today's pricing, you could be looking at four times that,” Frye said.

Troy Houtman, director of the city’s Park and Recreation department, doesn’t think the project will come cheap, either. Yet, Houtman sees the potential for the park to attract out-of-state tourists and better the quality of life for Wichita residents.Houtman brings up cities like Boulder, Colorado, and Plano, Texas, and says the quality of life is high there because of the investments made into their parks and communities.

“And once people get there, they're not wanting to leave,” he said.

“To make this project actually come to fruition, it's going to take a lot of work. There's going to be a lot of folks that really need to be convinced, but more than anything else, it's going to take some kind of investment.”

Andrew Lopez is the Korva Coleman Diversity in Journalism Intern at KMUW this summer. He is currently a student at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism and is on track to earn a Masters of Journalism degree next year.