The new Black History Park for downtown Wichita took another step toward reality on July 17 when NAACP committee members approved the final conceptual design for the park.

George White with GLMV Architectural Firm, the lead architect on the project, outlined the next steps toward actual construction of the park. It’s a process that is expected to take at least a year.

The next step will be the completion of a model of the park based on the final conceptual design and an estimate of the probable cost. That, along with materials to aid the NAACP in a fundraising campaign, is expected to be done by July 28.

Next will come a Request for Proposals to develop a final construction design. That will include making decisions about what materials to use and choosing an art consultant and artists to work on the project. 

Once all the details are in place, the project will go out for bids for a general contractor to complete the construction.

“In a lot of cases, it’s the actual construction that moves the fastest,” said Denise Peters with the city’s Park and Recreation Board. “It’s often working out all the details that takes the most time.”

One of the big unknowns about the project’s cost is related to infrastructure, like wall integrity in the existing Finlay Ross Park and whether or not electrical and plumbing systems will be adequate to make the existing water features in the park work with the concept of a “Waters of Justice” element proposed in the design.  

The “Waters of Justice” element starts with bubbler fountains that grow stronger and stronger as visitors walk through the park, until they culminate in a gushing waterfall.

A suggested art element is a tiled version of an artist rendering of the Dockum Drugstore lunch counter sit-in that was a signal event in Wichita’s Black history, which would be placed behind the waterfall. Above the waterfall will be the statue of the sit-in that was formerly located in Chester I. Lewis Park downtown.

The final concept also includes a labyrinth that will provide an opportunity for visitors to reflect on the history on display. 

What elements prove possible to include and what may have to be adjusted will rest on those cost projections and the NAACP’s ability to raise the necessary funds.

At the NAACP Freedom Fund Banquet in October 2022, Wichita City Councilman Brandon Johnson announced the city’s commitment of $1 million to create a park in downtown Wichita highlighting Wichita’s African American history. There is an estimated $250,000 in available arts funds. Anything over that cost will have to be raised.

NAACP members asked if it will be possible to do the completion in phases to allow money for each new phase to be raised as progress is made.

White assured the group that will be possible. He explained that there will be some fixed costs, such as making structural or infrastructure repairs. He said there will be a lot of room to adjust final costs by tweaking elements, such as using concrete instead of brick in some areas or opting for less expensive finishing materials.