Federal Agency Concerns Over Homeless Situation at Ilus Davis Park has KC Downtown Council Scrambling

Homeless people have been sleeping at Ilus Davis Park across the street from the FAA building (background).

By Kevin Collison

Ilus W. Davis Park, the centerpiece of the downtown Kansas City Civic District, has become a regular sleepover spot for homeless people, irritating a prominent next door neighbor, the Federal Aviation Administration.

The Downtown Council has asked the Kansas City Parks Board to impose a night-time curfew in the two-block park in response to concerns by the FAA. The federal agency employs 600 people in a leased office building across from the park at 901 Locust St.

Sean O’Byrne, vice president of the Downtown Council, said the parks board has refused so far to impose the type of overnight curfew that is commonplace in most American cities including Denver, Dallas and Indianapolis.

The Kansas City Council however, is currently considering an ordinance that would close all city parks, including Illus Davis, from midnight to 5 a.m. The new ordinance was endorsed by the Council Public Safety Committee Wednesday and will now go to the full Council for consideration.

“The fact we allow this park to stay open invites this kind of (homeless) encampment,” O’Byrne said. “It’s backward thinking. Nothing good can come from this.”

In a recent report, the Downtown Council Business Retention & Attraction Committee said FAA officials are concerned about the homeless presence in Ilus Davis Park.

“The FAA like their building and they want to stay downtown,” the report stated, “but they are concerned about the homeless encampment in Ilus Davis Park, currently in Kansas City it is not illegal to sleep overnight in the park.”

Belongings of homeless people at Ilus Davis Park.

A recent Downtown Council report stated the City Parks Board balked at the request.

“A coalition of building owners met with the Board of Parks Commissioners who still insisted that (it’s) good public policy to allow people to sleep overnight in the parks and refused to manage the public spaces by setting parks hours of operation,” the report stated.

Mark McHenry, executive director of the City Parks Department, said the board did not want to single out Ilus Davis Park for special treatment and also was concerned about the ability of Kansas City police to enforce hours at parks.

“The Park Board was concerned about identifying a small number of parks,” McHenry said. “We said let’s put it (hours) on all 221 of our parks. The Park Board took that to the Council.

“It’s also a question of enforcement. We can make recommendations about hours and activities, but that requires an ordinance so it’s something police can enforce. We’ve had a lot of dialogue over the years about what KCPD believes it can enforce.”

Illus Davis Park was developed in the 1990s as part of a massive urban renewal project. Buildings in a 5.2-acre area between Oak and Locust streets from Ninth to 11th streets were demolished to create a civic mall between the new Charles Whittaker U.S. Courthouse and the historic City Hall building.

The park was dedicated in 2001. It’s named after Illus Davis, a two-term mayor who served from 1948 to 1956. Besides the FAA, other prominent buildings bordering the park include the J.E. Dunn headquarters and the UMB Bank Technology Center.

O’Byrne said the proposal to close the park overnight has the support of the Downtown Council Human Services Committee. The Downtown Council has been a major supporter of the reStart homeless shelter at 918 E. Ninth St. The facility provides housing and support services for homeless people.

“What parks is doing is wrong by not having operational hours in that park or any park,” O’Byrne said. “We feel the best places for services are in a structured, clinical care…We want parks to do what every civilized city does which is to close parks from dusk to dawn and give us a chance to provide services.”