Lions Park and Kiddieland will be cleared out to give the park dating to 1952 a fresh start under new management.
The Waco Founder Lions Club and city of Waco announced plans Tuesday for an extensive revitalization project in partnership with other local organizations. The city plans to contribute $2 million for the work.
All rides and structures will be removed from the park over the next several weeks, Waco Chief of Staff Ashley Nystrom said. The city, which leases 11 acres to the park for $1 per year, will take point on the project, setting up a guiding committee of community members and finding a master planner for the renovations.
This is the first step in a larger plan, said John Tipton, Lions Park Trust Board member and immediate past president of the Waco Founder Lions Club.
“We’re really looking to step it up and make it more than it was,” Tipton said.
Waco Mayor Dillon Meek said the city plans to get input from children on the design of the park and what attractions it should have.
“After all, this park is for the children of our community,” Meek said.
Lions Park first opened in 1952 as a ballpark for teens, and Kiddieland, the small amusement park on the property, opened in 1965, with various attractions coming and going over the years. A swimming pool was converted to a short-lived bumper boat attraction in 2001. Like other Lions Club parks opened across the country through the 1960s and ‘70s it was founded on the idea that all children, regardless of their families’ income, would be able to afford to go. The most recent rate for rides was $2 each or six for $10.
The park has been closed for several weeks now, struggling to stay staffed and hurting financially because of the pandemic. The city of Waco threatened to cancel its lease with the park two months ago because of the park’s condition. Instead, city officials decided to work with the park.
“It was just time,” Tipton said.
The park will remain closed until the renovations are done. Tipton said the project will begin with “some” demolition, but it is still too early to give much detail beyond that.
The city has started the process of putting together a committee of community members to decide what to do with the park.
“We’re just beginning to put that together,” Tipton said.
Next, the group will hire a company with experience in small amusement parks to act as a master planner and guide the group’s decisions.
Tipton said Tuesday’s announcement with the city is just the beginning. The Lions Club plans to reach out to other organizations to raise money for renovations, starting with organizations with past ties to the park, including the Junior League of Waco.
A community survey conducted by the city in 2018 will also help guide the vision, he said.
McLennan County Judge Scott Felton said the roughly 2,000 survey responses indicate residents of the county still care about the park and consider it especially valuable to families.
“I am just one of many grandfathers who brought my children and grandchildren to the park for a one-of-a-kind experience in McLennan County,” Felton said in a press release announcing the plans. “Now we have the chance to revitalize this community asset to make sure Wacoans now and into the future will be able to enjoy everything it has to offer,” Felton said in the press release.
Tipton said Linda Sirkel will no longer manage the park when it reopens. He said the park will hopefully reopen under management with industry knowledge and experience running small amusement parks like Kiddieland.
“Linda’s done a good job. It’s just time to step it up a level,” Tipton said.