Merchant Park became a reality April 28 after the Leadership 2000 Plus class of 2011-2012 began the project six years ago. The class transformed a vacant lot downtown into a park for merchants and a farmers market.

It took several tries to get the scissors to cut the ribbon April 28 to dedicate Merchant Park after several years of planning, delays and construction. Having to work hard to get the ribbon cut seemed to fit the effort it took to get the vacant lot on the northwest corner of South Main and Fourth Street transformed into Merchant Park through the efforts of Carol Stull of the Leadership 2000 Plus class of 2010-2011 and several businesses that volunteered labor and materials or offered them at cost to help make the park a reality.

The first farmer's market at the park will be Saturday, May 13. As a special treat that first Saturday of operation, Youth for Christ will show a movie for children at 11 a.m. This is a one-time movie event just for the first day of the farmer's market

Although the park has been officially dedicated, a couple more elements are not complete. The Leadership 2000 Plus 2010-2011 class is seeking donations to add a band shell to the performance area and to construct an entrance arch to the park on the Main Street side, said Leadership spokesperson Deb Goyen.

Several banners will advertise the farmer's market that will be held at the park on Saturdays. Susan Pixler at Pratt High School and a student created the signs and donated them to the park. Connie McLean created the Farmer's Market design on the poster.

Posters and table tents will be used throughout town to advertise the farmer's market.

The merchants park will be for home grown or home produced items only. Merchants have to apply for a spot on the park. Those wanting to apply should contact Deb Goyen at the Peoples Bank at 672-5611, the City Library at 672-3041 or Pratt Area Chamber of Commerce at 672-5501.

Special emphasis will be placed on the second Saturday of each month with activities on the performance stage.

Merchants can show their wares in the shade thanks to canopy tents Leadership 2000 Plus was able to purchase using a South Central Community Foundation grant. The city will share the use of tables from the municipal building if the vendor needs one. The Market will run from 8:30 a.m. to noon, Goyen said.

The park was a long time in coming. The Leadership 2000 Plus Class of 2010-2011 wanted to create the park as their Leadership class project. It was about the same time that the city project to replace the bricks on Main Street from First Street to Sixth Street got underway.

The class wanted to repurpose the bricks some how and the park seemed the best way to do it. It was a monumental task. The bricks had to be hand cleaned one at a time and there were 30,000 bricks to clean, Goyen said.

When it was time to install the bricks, they didn't have enough so several volunteers gathered and spent several hours cleaning to have them ready for the installers from Younie Landscaping. Smiley Concrete did the concrete work for the park.

Long before the park was ready for bricks, they delayed construction while the Parrish Loft project was completed. The former Parrish Hotel sat empty for 30 years but was brought back to life and was converted into low-income apartments.

Part of the construction included running utility lines through the park area so the decision was made to delay the construction of the park until all the utility work for the Parrish project was complete. The Parrish project also changed the design of the west end of the park. To meet the parking needs for the Parrish Lofts, the city allowed the west end of the park to be come parking stalls. This removed several feet of space for the park.

Volunteers are the only way Merchant Park came into existence. Much labor and materials were donated and many gave funds for the park. When the funds for the project ran out, there was nothing left to provide plants for the flower boxes. Through the generosity of several donors, enough money was raised to get plants within a few days of the call going out for donations.

It is hoped more will donate now to help pay for the band shell and the permanent park entrance sign. @GaleR_Tribune