Gleaming riverfront park to open Friday, but bird’s-eye view offers sneak peek now

Promenade Park will open to the public Friday, bringing people to the banks of the St. Marys River after two years and $20 million of construction. (Photo courtesy john McGauley)
This is how Promenade Park looked before construction began. (Photo courtesy John McGauley)
A worker cleans around the Promenade Park pavilion in preparation for Friday's grand opening. (News-Sentinel.com photo by Kevin Leininger)
The elevated Parkview Tree Canopy Trail gives a clear view of downtown from the north bank of the St. Marys River. (News-Sentinel.com photo by Kevin Leininger)

Two years after construction began, the $20 million first phase of Fort Wayne’s riverfront development will be unveiled Friday at 5:30 p.m., kicking off a weekend of festivities.

“We’re celebrating a momentous occasion in Fort Wayne’s history,” Mayor Tom Henry said in a statement. “Promenade Park is a world-class attraction, intentionally designed to be a welcoming and accessible space for all. I hope you’ll enjoy the experiences that we’re providing during this free, three-day celebration commemorating our newest offering to residents and visitors. There will be a floating band performance, community art projects, a lighted boat parade, a butterfly release, and boat rides with spectacular views of our city.”

A view from the air, photographed by former News-Sentinel reporter and current Allen Superior Court Executive John McGauley, illustrates just how much has changed along the banks of he St. Marys River downtown between Wells and Harrison streets in the past two years.

The north bank now boasts the elevated Parkview Tree Canopy Trail, a wetlands, dock and PNC Playground. The south bank, once overgrown with invasive vegetation and dotted with industrial buildings, is home to the Ambassador Enterprises Amphitheater; Journal Gazette Foundation Dining Gardens; the Auer Lawn; Sweetwater Bandshell; Old National Bank Plaza; Rotary Fountain; Doermer Kids’ Canal; Little Creek Bioswale; Betsy Chapman Family Gardens; Convergence, a sculpture by Linda Howard; and the Park Foundation Pavilion. which features restrooms and the Trubble Riverside Cafe & Tap.

Construction funding included $10 million from the city’s Legacy Fund and $5 million from the state’s Regional Cities program, together with private sources. Legacy also provided $6 million for design and other costs, while the Capital Improvement Board awarded $3 million in restaurant taxes for land acquisition.

Friday will be “Arts and Culture Day” starting at 9:30 a.m. and events will include a welcome by Henry at 6 p.m.; ribbon-cutting at 6:20 p.m. and various performances at the bandshell and on a floating stage throughout the evening, ending with a “river lighting” at 10 p.m.

Saturday is “Recreation Day” beginning at 9:30 a.m. and will feature dragon boat races, boat tours, a kayak parade and lighted boat parade at dusk. Starting at 10 a.m., Sunday will be “Nature Day,” including the butterfly release at 1 p.m., a “River Renaissance Burning Sculpture” at 9 p.m. and stargazing after dark. Information, riverfront merchandise and other activities and services will also be available all three days.

Full details of the weekend’s events can be found at riverfrontfw.org/grand-opening.

In reality, however, Promenade Park’s debut marks just the end of the beginning of riverfront development. Two more phases, costing $75 million or so, are also planned, extending roughly from Sherman Boulevard on the west to the St. Joseph River on the east. Phase one was accomplished mostly with public funding, but city officials hope future phases will attract private investment in the form of shops, restaurants, housing and more.

Planning for the later phases is being led by DAVID RUBIN Land Collective of Philadelphia and includes the 29-acre “North River” site the city bought for $4.63 million in 2017. Backers of Headwaters Junction, a railroad-themed attraction, had hoped to locate there but as The News-Sentinel recently reported, planners do not believe Headwaters Junction would be compatible with the planned uses and will not be allowed to locate there. The project’s supporters, however, say they hope to change the city’s mind.

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