UPDATED: Negotiations continuing over Headwaters Park transition to Fort Wayne Parks’ management

Headwaters Park in the foreground and downtown Fort Wayne in the background in what has just been named the best place to live in Indiana. (News-Sentinel.com file photo)

Negotiations are ongoing, but both sides expect to reach an agreement in the coming months for the Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation Department to take over full management, operation and maintenance responsibilities for Headwaters Park beginning in 2019.

The Headwaters Park Alliance, which has managed the park for the parks department, plans to dissolve at the end of 2018.

Last September, Alliance Executive Director Geoff Paddock made a presentation about the transition to the parks department’s board of park commissioners, who voiced at least one hesitation about the idea.

Paddock said alliance and parks department officials have been in talks since mid-2017 to discuss details of the transition.

“We feel we have accomplished our mission,” he said of the alliance, which has managed the park for about the past 18 years under a series of renewable, three-year contracts with the parks department.

The alliance took over park management from the Headwaters Park Commission, which met in the late 1980s and 1990s to create and begin operation of the park, Paddock said.

He and alliance board members want to make sure there is a smooth transition to parks department management.

“The turnover will be seamless, and. except for a few new faces, the operation should not change much,” Paddock said.

Headwaters Park’s operations include festival and event rentals from late April through late October and operating a public ice skating rink from October to early March.

The alliance also wants to ensure the parks department will honor two key aspects of the park:

• It was constructed as a flood-control project that provides open space downtown for the St. Marys River to spill out of its banks during flooding without causing damage.

• Donors contributed $9.7 million to build the park as it was designed by noted architectural firm Eric R. Kuhne and Associates, so the alliance would like the park’s design to stay intact in the future.

The latter point was mentioned as a potential stumbling block by park commissioners, at least one of whom voiced concern about being locked into maintaining Headwaters Park exactly as it looks now.

Park commissioners will have to approve the final transition plan, which will include making Headwaters Park part of the parks department’s 2019 budget, Al Moll, parks department director, said via email.

Parks department officials still are working on the transition plan, including looking at staffing needs, Moll said. But he doesn’t expect any impact on taxpayers from the department assuming responsibility for Headwaters Park.

“Although we may need to invest initially in extra staff and improvements, our goal is to continue to generate enough revenue through fees, admissions, donations, etc., to offset any normal operating expenses,” he said.

The department plans to use the same operations model at Headwaters Park as it has been successful at other parks department venues, he said.

“Our plan is to continue to offer the same exceptional experience at Headwaters Park, with expanded programming,” he said.

That expanded programming could involve activities related to the downtown riverfront, including possibly hosting events in collaboration with Promenade Park.

The new Promenade Park, which is located a few blocks away on Superior Street between Harrison Street and the Historic Wells Street Bridge, is scheduled to open in spring 2019 as part of the first phase of downtown riverfront development.

SHARING INFORMATION

Geoff Paddock, executive director of the Headwaters Park Alliance, has been invited to share information about the development and operation of the park with city officials in Evansville. Paddock’s presentations are scheduled for Jan. 24-25.

“The invitation came several months ago from (Evansville City) Councilwoman Michelle Mercer and Mayor Lloyd Winnecke,” Paddock said. “They have admired what we did here in Fort Wayne and want me to tell our story to their city government, business and community leaders.”

COMMENTS