IOWA CITY — A decades-old tradition in City Park is coming to an end after this summer, making way for what the city promises to be a big new adventure for kids.
The city is offering weekend rides for free in August and September on the remaining four 1952 amusement rides before they close for good in September. Maintaining the vintage rides is “no longer viable,” said the city, which plans to replace them with a “large adventure playground.”
“We’re hearing from people that they’re very nostalgic about the rides and we understand that,” said Juli Seydell Johnson, the city’s parks and recreation director. “That’s why we wanted to get the world out now so people do have a chance to say goodbye. We understand it’s a change. but we really think that as we renovate that Lower City Park, give us a chance, you’re going to really like the new play area, too.”
A family originally owned and operated the rides, but sold the operation to Iowa City in 1999. The rides will close permanently Sept. 23.
Seydell Johnson said the rides then probably will be sold. City property to be disposed of usually goes through a bid process. She said the city intends to make sure the public knows in advance about any sale of the rides either in late summer or early fall.
Ridership wasn’t the biggest factor in closing the rides, Seydell Johnson said. Rather, they’ve become more difficult to maintain.
Ridership typically fluctuates, often depending on the weather or flooding each season.
“They’ve had kind of a patchy history in the past,” Seydell Johnson said. “The last couple of years have been pretty strong. We celebrated an anniversary last year and a lot of people come out to ride them, so we know the public still loves them. It’s just that maintaining them and continuing to operate them has become problematic.”
Seydell Johnson said the rides are not disability accessible, and if the city were to replace one it would be responsible for making the whole play area compliant with the federal law.
The rides currently are open from 1 to 7 p.m. weekdays and weekends through Aug. 19. After that until closing, the rides will be open 1 to 6 p.m. only on weekends.
Rides will be free every weekend in August and September. The cost otherwise is $1 each or $8 for a 10-ride punch card.
Construction on a new playground is set to begin in late spring or early summer next year. The city is in the process of hiring a designer, Seydell Johnson said.
The new adventure playground likely will be Iowa City’s biggest and most expensive playground. The project has a $650,000 budget and initially was envisioned in the Lower City Park Master Plan.
In comparison, Mercer Park playground, which opened a few years ago, came with a price tag of $225,000.
The new playground is planned to be moved closer to the hillside to lower its flooding risk. And it would be in an area that would receive more flood protection as the city executes the master plan.
“Think of it as just a huge, fun, amazing playground,” Seydell Johnson said, adding that it’ll have some tradition playground features like swings and slides.
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“An adventure play zone is higher, bigger, more exciting than what you might find in our typical playgrounds,” she said.
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