A group dedicated to the beautification of Parsons hopes that the city commission will look favorably on a proposed downtown pocket park.

Rod Landrum, representing SEK Point of Pride, has been working with city staff to develop the empty lot where the Parsons Theatre stood before it was destroyed by a fire. The city-owned property is on the south side of the 1800 block of Main Street, just east of a Commercial Bank building.

Landrum, who is the point person, along with his wife, Karen, on the project, said Sunflower Farms, rural Cherryvale, has donated a design of the park that includes east/west and north/south walkways intersecting at a big fountain in the center of the park. The park would be sodded with grass, and there would be crepe myrtles and other bushes and ornamental grasses surrounding the fountain. There would be an underground sprinkler system and lighting of some kind, along with benches. An entry arch matching the large downtown arch stretching over Main Street would be built with stone or brick columns.

“It’s going to be a nice, little pocket park for people to go to and sit and relax and bring people to downtown,” Landrum said.

Landrum plans to present the proposal to the Parsons City Commission on July 2 or July 6.

Jim Zaleski, economic development director for the city, liked the idea for the park but had concerns about funding and sustainability.

“One of our biggest concerns is maintenance of the park once it gets in there,” Zaleski said. “We just wanted to see if they had some ideas for sustainability.”

The city acquired the lot from ACME Cinema, owner of Parsons Theatre, when the city gave the company incentives to rebuild at another location after fire destroyed the building. Since then, the city has had to mow the grass, but that hasn’t been much of a problem, Zaleski said, because workers can use a 42-inch mower to make quick work of it. Adding a fountain, sidewalks and bushes would require more time from a crew that’s already stretched thin.

Landrum was able to alleviate that concern by getting Ray Jacquinot, Commercial Bank president, to commit the bank to maintaining park landscaping.

“That is one of the big things right there. You know, you can go out and raise money, but the long-term sustainability is important,” Landrum said.

In answer to the funding concerns, Point of Pride already has raised $17,000 of the projected $48,000 needed for the project. Pam Cress committed $10,000 in honor of the late Chuck Spellman. Landrum doesn’t expect much difficulty finding the rest of the needed funds. 

“My gut feeling is we won’t have any problem raising money for this,” Landrum said.

The Parsons Area Community Foundation has set up a Parsons pocket park fund so people can make tax deductible donations to the project.

SEK Point of Pride will begin formally seeking donations after city commission approval.

Zaleski said he also wanted to ensure the neighboring businesses were on board with the pocket park idea. Jacquinot clearly supports the proposal, and Landrum said Jennifer Eichinger, whose accounting firm building’s west wall would adjoin the park, also agrees with the project.

Point of Pride also recognizes commercial and residential properties each month for most of the year for their neat appearance as Spotlight Properties and organizes community cleanup days. The organization also donated large, concrete flower pots and maintains the flowers they hold to help improve the aesthetics of downtown.

“This is just another project our group has taken on,” Landrum said of the park.

The idea for the park came about with a little inspiration from longtime Parsons residents Pete and Mary Hughes, who are well-known for their volunteerism and efforts to improve the quality of life in town. Landrum said the Hugheses, who he calls “Mr. and Mrs. Parsons,” used to drive through towns during their travels and get ideas they could bring back and put into action in their hometown.

Now that Landrum is retired from the Labette Health Foundation, he and his wife take their time in traveling, getting off the interstates to drive through other towns. They have seen pocket parks in cities large and small, so they brought that idea home with them.

Landrum said the park also will feature some kind of tribute to Gilbert Baker, who was raised in Parsons before creating the rainbow flag that is used to symbolize LGBTQ pride around the world. The Parsons High School Class of 1969 wants to pay tribute to their classmate, who died in 2017. Landrum said a medallion or plaque will be placed in a concrete walkway or on the adjoining wall.

A Kansas News Service story published in the Parsons Sun and shared on local Facebook pages erroneously reported that the city already had donated the land for the park. The city commission hasn’t decided on the issue yet, and the park would be part of the city’s park system instead of donated to Point of Pride.

Landrum said Point of Pride also may feature some kind of tribute to Spellman because of Cress’ donation in his name.

Based on a suggestion from Zaleski, the park also may include a concrete slab connected to the alley on the back of the property. Zaleski thought that would be a good place for food trucks to set up during downtown events.

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