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From the archives: Headwaters Park rises from mud

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1913 - The Flood of 1913. City begins to develop park system. Charles Robinson conceives plan of a park at the confluence of the St. Marys, St. Joseph and Maumee Rivers.

1921 - Heit-Miller-Lau Confectioners presents plan to build a public park and civic center between Superior Street and the St. Marys River, which included Victory Hall and Sports Stadium. The company put up a billboard of the proposed project that said "Just a Dream" to get public input.

1927 - Financing for the project is available, but plans die with the onset of the Great Depression two years later.

1934 - Robert Hanna develops plans to develop a Great River Park extending from Fort Wayne to Toledo, but nothing comes of them.

1982 - Flood of 1982 causes city to think seriously about creating a park as part of its overall flood control plan.

1985 - Eric Kuhne presents a proposal to the city for the project. The $50 million, 200-acre plan includes a baseball stadium and Waterworks Park at the confluence of the three rivers. The Headwaters Park Alliance is formed.

1989 - Headwaters Park Commission, a bipartisan group, is formed and assumes full responsibility for the park, including fund raising. It sets the Bicentennial as the date to open Headwaters.

1990 - Plans for Headwaters Park scaled down to include only the 22 acres in the thumb of the St. Marys River.
Park receives some state money. Over the next three years,
park gets $1.4 million from Indiana General Assembly.

1992 - City approves a $5.2 million bond to pay for land acquisition and business relocation costs for Headwaters Park.

1994 - Phase I of Headwaters,Park, two-thirds done, is dedicated. Headwaters Park Campaign formed to solicit more private contributions for the park. Lincoln National Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Ian Rolland, whose company has donated $1.3 million, is picked to head the committee.

An old idea blooms flood-prone city acreage into life

Thursday, March 21, 2013 - 12:01 am

This story was originally published October 21, 1994.

Imagine an outdoor theater, perennial flower beds, a vine-covered pavilion, all in a park near the downtown.

Imagine . . . That's what people who attend tomorrow's dedication ceremony for Phase I of Headwaters Park will have to do.

The 8-acre area is about two-thirds done and won't open until spring. But planners are holding the ceremony at the site anyway, to coincide with Fort Wayne's 200th birthday celebration.

Headwaters Park will eventually turn 22 acres in the "thumb" of the St. Marys River into a park on the north side of Fort Wayne's downtown. The area has been hit hard by flooding several times this century; the Headwaters plan will clear it of buildings and private development.

Four years ago, the Headwaters Park Commission set Bicentennial week as a target completion date for Phase I. But construction, which began this spring, started late due to a delay in acquiring properties, said Geoff Paddock, executive director of the Headwaters Park Commission, a 12-member bipartisan board formed in 1990 to initiate the park's construction.

Still, those involved in the planning, which began more than a decade ago, are satisfied with the park's progress.     ''For so long it was just drawings and collages," Mayor Paul Helmke said. "To see the ideas turn into reality, I have to pinch myself. It's really going to be an attraction to downtown."

The dedication is open to the public and begins at 9:35 a.m. tomorrow with the Weisser Park Memorial Summit Band playing a special bicentennial march and Portage Middle School students performing a skit.

After Helmke and Headwaters officials speak, a ribbon will be cut and a time capsule buried. Then, Headwaters Park designers Eric Kuhne, a New York- based architect, and Alan Grinsfelder, a local architect, will answer questions and give tours.

Phase I

Phase I's main structure, a terrace garden, is almost done. This semicircle concrete structure set along the edges of the St. Marys River will someday serve as a small, informal concert theater. Four rows of shallow steps that can seat several hundred people surround a center grass area where a bicentennial medallion will be imprinted.

Construction on Phase I's other major structure, a pavilion, begins next month. When done, the three-sided stainless steel structure will have vine- covered lattices on its sides and fog jets on its dished roof that'll spout off intermittently. Inside, three sets of benches will surround a small bubbler.

"It's very London-esque," Paddock said. "We envision people having weddings there."

The rest of Phase I will be concrete pathways weaving through flowers and trees. Two rows of Aristocrat pear trees, and a pink, blue and yellow perennial flower bed will outline the terrace garden. A grass meadow and parterre - a formal garden of feather reed and blue fescue grass in a non- traditional geometric pattern - and rows of autumn purple ash and crab- apple trees lining Clinton also will highlight the landscape.

Phase I's landscaping should have something for everyone, Thomas Navin, an associate at Eric Kuhne and Associates, said. "It's a series of outdoor rooms, each for different moments when one might use the park, that cater to a variety of interests."

Plants and trees were chosen not only for aesthetic reasons, but also to survive flood conditions, Navin said. Many of the trees in Phase I are part of a "hardwood mix" that all have strong trunks.

''We're creating a park where we welcome flooding as a part of the natural flow of things," Navin said.

Landscaping along the edge of the river will be a mix of grasses and plants that attract birds and water creatures.   

''We wanted it to become a very positive habitat for the area's natural wildlife," Navin said. "This will reconnect the citizens of Fort Wayne with the water's edge."

Target 1997

How fast and how much of the next phase of the project will be built depends on when enough private funds are raised. Planners hope the entire park is built by 1997. It should include:

Turning the Indiana National Guard Armory into a festival facility. Paddock said the commission is negotiating with the state to get the building at 330 S. Clinton St. But the state won't commit to anything until the Guard moves to its new armory at 130 W. Cook Road.

A reflecting pool for model boats that would be an ice-skating rink in the winter. The area, on the east side of Clinton across from the armory, also could be drained and used for a festival tent.

A roughly 300-space city parking lot behind the festival area.

These three areas, in conjunction with the terrace garden in Phase I, will be the venue for all major festivals and concerts in Fort Wayne, providing a "civic-soul" to the entire community, Kuhne said.

Phase II of the project also calls for a boat dock, great meadow with a fountain in it and a quarter-mile track around it, and pedestrian walkways that would lead to the Rivergreenway and Lawton Park.

'Visionaries' pushed project

Though Headwaters is a little behind, some say it's a wonder the project has come so far.

Kuhne, the project's original architect, said private and public cooperation, and a handful of "visionaries" kept the project going.

Ideas about creating a city park in conjunction with Fort Wayne's waterways had been floating around since 1913 but Ivan Lebamoff, mayor from 1972 to 1975, was the first to put them into action.

''Lebamoff was impassioned about creating a great city," Kuhne said.

In 1974, Lebamoff suggested to Kuhne, then the city architect, that he incorporate the rivers into a plan of downtown he was working on.

Lebamoff's vision didn't materialize until the 1980s, when the floods of 1982 prompted city officials to think seriously about incorporating Headwaters Park as part of its overall flood-control plan.

The thumb area was hit worst in the flood of 1982. Buildings in that area suffered $4.5 million in damage. Clearing those buildings for a park lessens potential flooding damages.

In addition to the floods, the Rivergreenway project helped get Headwaters going. Developed in 1980, the 11-mile walking/biking trail that runs along the St. Joseph and St. Marys rivers was testimony to how Fort Wayne's rivers could be used for public recreation. When completed, Headwaters will be "the hub to the Rivergreenway's spokes," Kuhne said.

In 1983, Kuhne developed plans for Headwaters while a graduate student at Princeton University and presented them to then-Mayor Win Moses about a year later.

And around that time, the Headwaters Park Alliance was formed, with then-Channel 21 General Manager Ed Metcalfe as its chairman, and the project was under way.

Kuhne's original plan called for a $50 million, 200-acre park. It included the "thumb area," Municipal Park to the north; and the Three Rivers Filtration Plant to the east, at the confluence of the St. Marys, St. Joseph and Maumee rivers.

Kuhne said it was to be named City Lights State Park to commemorate the site of the old city light-and-power building near Lawton Park, which was shut down in 1975 when Indiana Michigan Power took it over for the municipal plant.

''But the name was changed because the city felt that it played too heavily on the city's remorse about losing the municipal utility," Kuhne said.

The park was then named Headwaters because it included the area where the St. Marys and St. Joseph rivers meet the Maumee River at its high or "head" point. Kuhne suggested locating a museum of science and industry in the abandoned municipal power plant as part of Headwaters. Today, this is not part of the park but is where Science Central, a hands-on science museum, will be housed.

Original plans also included a baseball stadium at the site of Omnisource Corp., 1610 N. Calhoun St. But the park lost its chance for one when Allen County chose to build Memorial Stadium farther north. Later, it also was decided the

park shouldn't have any organized sports areas, because too much of Headwaters' land would be dedicated to one use.

''We want access every day to everyone in Fort Wayne," Kuhne said.

Waterworks Park, which would have been at the confluence, also was in the first plan. The park would have had a curved arcade with 20 full-size stone sculptured panels that traced Fort Wayne history.

But in 1990, the year the Headwaters Park Commission was formed, it was decided the original 200-acre plan wasn't feasible, and it was scaled down to the 22-acre, $16 million plan of today.

'Legacy of hope'

While plans for the project were being developed throughout the 1980s, the Headwaters Commission didn't secure state financing for the project until the 1990s, under Helmke's administration.

The state money came mainly because the project was considered a flood-control measure, Paddock said.

The state appropriated a total of $1.4 million for the project in 1990, 1991 and 1993. That money, and a $5.2 million bond issued by the city in 1993, is paying for the cost of buying land, and acquiring and relocating properties.

The other 55 percent of the project's funds will be raised privately. So far, the Headwaters Park Commission has collected $2.6 million in private funds, which covers Phase I. About $6.6 million more is needed for the rest of the project.

Just this week, the commission received a $1 million donation from Lincoln National Corp. And the Headwaters Park Campaign has been set up to raise the rest of the money, with Lincoln National Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Ian Rolland as chairman. He is recruiting about a dozen representatives from local corporations to serve as committee members.

Private funds pay engineering, construction and administration costs. They'll also go toward an $840,000 endowment that will be set aside to maintain the park after it is built. The Department of Parks and Recreation will run the


''We didn't want any of this to fall on the taxpayers, that's why we included the endowment," Paddock said,     Planners are confident they'll be able to raise the rest of the money needed for Headwaters.

After all, an outpouring of public and private support has brought the project this far, Kuhne said.

''This is a true civic effort and is why it did survive," he said. "This park is as much about every struggling city in the world as it is a story about Fort Wayne.

''It is about how an entire community decides to build a legacy of its own hopes for their children."

Flood control

When the city floods, the thumb area is hit first and worst. Headwaters won't stop the area from flooding. But it will remove buildings from the area that would suffer millions of dollars worth of floor damage.

''It won't solve the flooding problem, but it will allow the water to run across," said Carl O'Neal, city transportation engineering director.

Eric Kuhne, the architect who designed Headwaters park, said the area is like a big bathtub: "The fewer objects in the tub, the more water the tub will hold."

In Phase I of the project, land along the St. Marys River was lowered slightly, and plants and trees designed to withstand flood conditions were put in.

''It'll take a good soaking," O'Neal said.

Headwaters will work in conjunction with two other major flood control projects in the area.

The $8 million Maumee River widening project was completed in 1992. And the $44.7 million Army Corps of Engineers diking project, set to begin in July 1995, should remove 3,000 homes from the city's flood plain by 1997.

''All three projects will work like links in a chain," O'Neal said.

Community contributions to Headwaters Park

These groups have shown their support for Headwaters by donating trees:

* Twenty-six area schools raised $500 each for 44 trees to be put in along the west side of Clinton Street.

* Downtown Rotary Club donated $21,250 worth of trees.