Polishing the Loose Park jewel
The Kansas City Star
Ten years ago the Ward Family Foundation became Loose Park’s private benefactor. Since then the group’s relationship with the Parks and Recreation Department has dramatically enhanced one of Kansas City’s most used parks.
This wonderful public-private partnership started in 2002 with an ambitious plan to tackle years of neglect at Loose Park. Projects were outlined to repair sidewalks, benches and the Loose Pavilion; to mow the grass and pick up trash more frequently; and to add amenities such as better restrooms, a new playground and renovated tennis courts.
Over time those improvements — along with others such as a spongy asphalt running path — have made the 75-acre park south of the Country Club Plaza sparkle. They have also enabled the city to free up some funds it would have spent at Loose Park to upgrade other parks.
Just days ago the foundation, created by the family that owns Russell Stover Candies, renewed its pledge to continue financing additional work at Loose, Gillham and Theis parks. Loose Park’s rubberized track, which is bumpy and scarred in many spots, will be resurfaced. Some stonework will be replaced.
Scott Ward, co-president of Russell Stover Candies, said his organization didn’t want to tell the parks department to use funds from a new sales tax approved by voters in August to continue improving Loose Park. Said Ward: “We made the commitment long before things got so rosy-looking, and sales taxes can come and go. We have a long-term commitment.”
Ward’s allegiance is in character. He once told The Star’s editorial board he considered Loose Park to be “the Central Park of Kansas City.” Take a look at the diverse groups of people who use the picnic tables, playground, running path and large lawns of the park, and Ward’s description seems right on point.
Meanwhile, the parks department should expand its efforts to put together more public-private agreements to enhance parks. Success stories in recent years have included projects to revive Hyde Park, Roanoke Park, Mill Creek Park and Penn Valley Park.
Kansas City’s famed parks and boulevards system is in good hands with the current dedicated parks department leaders and especially with exceptional partners such as the Ward Family Foundation.