A month before 2023 NFL Draft, setup is starting in this KC park. How will it change?

·3 min read

Crews spread grass seed this week atop broad muddy patches on the east side of Washington Square Park, not far from where officials from every NFL team and thousands of fans will gather late next month. Sod for the west side is coming.

Two questions: will the fresh turf stand up to the crowds attending the NFL Draft and all the related festivities? And how will all this affect the homeless who gather at the park for free food?

Both the Kansas City Parks and Recreation Department and the volunteers who distribute the meals are hoping all goes well.

“Cutting it close,” one of those parks workers said as he strolled through the 4.74-acre park to the north of Crown Center and east of Union Station.

“We’re on top of it,’’ one of the volunteers serving the homeless said.

A work crew prepared the lawn of Washington Square Park on Wednesday for new sod.
A work crew prepared the lawn of Washington Square Park on Wednesday for new sod.

The draft isn’t until the end of April. But on Monday, an event promoter that is working on behalf of the National Football League can begin setting up at the park, according to an agreement obtained by The Star through a public records request.

C3 Presents out of Austin, Texas, was granted permission to use the park as long as it is restored to its pre-event conditions by May 10, according to the rental agreement. That means no off pavement vehicle traffic, unless all the ruts are repaired.

C3 puts on the NFL Draft Experience, the carnival-like happening that entertains the hundreds of thousands of football fans drawn to the draft each year. Along with food and drink, the event includes interactive exhibits, autograph sessions and a chance to take a selfie with the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

This year it begins Thursday, April 27, and ends on Saturday, April 29. Many of the NFL Draft Experience activities will take place on the pavement south of Union Station and spill onto the parkland north of the Liberty Memorial known as Memorial Hill. But the NFL Draft Experience will also dogleg east into Washington Square Park.

Recently, the parks department said it leveled the sidewalks within and surrounding the park by removing and resetting on a new base of sand the brick pavers that were first installed in the 1990s. The department had long sought funding for the work, which became available only recently. Construction started in January and crews were still finishing up this week, filling the cracks with sand while other workers scattered straw over the new grass seed.

As the work continued on that blustery Tuesday afternoon, a woman wrapped in blankets slept at the base of the George Washington Memorial, a statue that stands at the southeast corner of the park that was donated almost a century ago by the Patriots and Pioneer Memorial Foundation of Kansas City.

Homeless people have for many years camped at the park in small numbers. Large groups queue up four or more nights a week for the free food handed out by various volunteer groups.

“Last Saturday night, I served like 200 people there,” said Melissa Matejicka of the group Free Hot Soup.

During other major events that occur at the park, such as Boulevardia and the Irish Festival, Free Hot Soup shifts its distribution point to a patch of grass northeast of the park. That will happen this time, too.

“We were already planning for draft weekend,” Matejicka said.

If for some reason they have to move during the weeks things are being set up for the NFL Draft Experience, they’re ready for that, too.