Neighbors concerned about the future of One Pacific Place Park received good news Thursday night.
The Omaha Parks Department told about 40 residents of the Sunset Hills neighborhood about plans to restore the park to a wetland and prairie.
Several neighbors have called City Councilman Franklin Thompson over the past few months, voicing concerns that the park south of 101st and Pacific Streets wasn't being properly maintained.
People who live near the park noticed last week that the city had cleared out natural grasses and other flora, leaving the once-colorful area nearly barren. That caused many people to fear that the park might be turned into soccer fields, a plan that the city considered in the early 1990s.
Parks Director Brook Bench and Thompson put those fears to rest.
Bench said prairie grasses and other native plants were mowed to prepare for a project that is intended to revitalize the park and restore it to a wetland and prairie. The city has no intention of turning it into soccer fields, he said.
“Our goal is to put it back the way it used to be,” Bench said.
A shallow stream and sand beach once curved around a small section of the park.
About seven or eight years ago, the city decided to stop filling the stream with water because it couldn't afford to. The stream dried up during a drought, and plants grew where water once flowed, Bench said.
“Once the water turned off, the park fell through the cracks and experienced years of neglect,” Thompson said at the meeting, held at the park.
Donald Giger, who heads the Sunset Hills Neighborhood Association, said if properly maintained, a wetland and prairie would re-establish natural conditions and result in long-term reduced maintenance costs.
“We are relieved to know they didn't want to destroy it,” he said.
Carol Rowe, who lives in the One Pacific Place apartments, said that years ago her grandchildren loved to play in the water and on the beach. She's excited that future generations will get to enjoy the wetland.
Gail Klauschie said she was worried when parks workers cleared the natural flora. Her biggest concern was that it wiped out habitat for birds and other wildlife. But the grasslands will grow back, and animals will have a habitat again soon, she said.
When the Parks Department set aside the land for the park in the 1980s, the area — which historically included an urban wetland — was supposed to kept in much the same condition as it was then, Giger said. The park was reduced in size when the Omaha City Council approved the One Pacific Place business and apartment development in 1985.
The neighborhood residents also talked about organizing a watch group to discourage people from vandalizing the park.
Former Councilwoman Sylvia Wagner, who voted to approve the One Pacific Place development, said people should do their part to sustain the park.
“If we don't want to raise taxes, we have to take responsibility for our park and take care of it,” Wagner said.