A clean green park with an award-winning golf course not only raises the profile of the Ivanhoe neighborhood at 40th and Wayne — it changes the mindset of those who live there, said Chris Harris.
The space — completed in August— was chosen by the American Society of Golf Course Architects for its Design Excellence Recognition Program list, said Harris, owner and operator of the Harris Park Midtown Sports and Activities Center. Harris also is one of the winners for the 2019 Urban Hero award, to be celebrated at a Jan. 23 reception in the Grand Ballroom at the Kansas City Convention Center.
A house in the area recently went on the market for $120,000 this year, Harris noted, a previously unheard of figure for the Ivanhoe community.
“It sends a signal that we can have nice things,” he said. “A lot of times, when I was growing up in neighborhood, I didn’t understand what was going on [with the empty] and abandoned houses and people dumping trash. I [was] outside playing basketball and football in dirty lots.”
After buying a plot in the late 1990s and developing the park and basketball court, Harris laid out its programming with a singular goal — to use sports as a catalyst to teach youth the basics of life, he said.
“I would say that 95 percent of what I’m doing is educational and five percent is sports,” he added. “It’s just all about cleaning up our community. When you clean up blighted land, that’s educational in itself.”
Maintaining the golf course — which involves cutting the grass every three days — is causing a shift in focus for Harris in the coming year, he said, noting the adult and youth programming need more structure.
“We want to make sure that when we are opening these doors for people to come play golf, [we have rules in place for] things to move smoothly,” said Harris. “If we don’t put in a great plan to get things to go smoothly, people won’t come back.”
It was all truly a grassroots program, he added, noting that bringing in key partnerships — like Missouri Golf Hall of Famer Frank Kirk, Big Brothers Big Sisters, the YMCA, Truman Medical Center and more — alleviated the stress of building a full golf course without early capital, he said.
“It’s just been a lot of major corporations that rallied around to help me get this thing up and going,” said Harris. “I’ve been carrying this thing for a very long time just on [$45,000 a year]. I just did what I could do and I wasn’t trying to do no more, no less. Just because you have a modest salary, you still can clean up your neighborhood. That’s the truth.”
“I really truly believe that this model could work in every urban neighborhood throughout the United States,” he added.