South Bend has a pretty good thing going—and wants to keep it that way.
The city of just 105,000 residents has a park system that attracts 1 million visitors a year.
“We’re beginning to put together some strategic thoughts and ideas and plans, a roadmap, if you would, on how we might proceed over the next five years,” said South Bend Park Department Executive Director Phil St. Clair.
As always, the first step in putting together a five year master plan for the parks involves meeting with the public. “Five years ago, the conservatory was really a hot button item,” said St. Clair. “And as you can see now, the old greenhouse is down and we have a new revamped revised conservatory?”
The last pet project the public identified through the master plan process involved the renovation of the crumbling Ella Morris Conservatory.
The city has since spent $1.2 million in local option income tax dollars to revitalize the structure.
“It’s an energy efficient conservatory that saves us a lot of dollars annually on our heating costs,” said St. Clair.
It’s hard to tell what priorities the public will establish this time around, although the park department has several other facilities that fall into the ‘crumbling’ category.
“Newman Center is certainly is one of those facilities, the ice rink (Howard Park) is another, pool (Potawatomi) is another, facilities that have been built in the 1950’s or longer ago than that,” said St. Clair. “It's time we take a serious look at these facilities and what type of resources do we want to put into them or in fact do we want to keep them in the park inventory.”
In the end all the tough calls will be made by the public. The process of gaging citizen sentiment today began with a focus group of frequent park patrons.
During the gathering, the University of Notre Dame, the South Bend Community School Corporation and HealthWorks were all represented.
St. Clair still holds out hope that the type of bonding that comes with reaching out to the community, may result in the type of bonding that could end up funding a lot of park improvements.
“To be honest it’s been over 40 years since South Bend has done a park bond,” said St. Clair. If you discuss a bond for the parks the first thing you got to go through the process that we're going through right now.”
The city is going all out to seek public opinion with two meetings on tap for Monday, two more on Tuesday and two more on Wednesday night.
On Tuesday evening at 5:00 p.m. the park department will take input at the O’Brien Center at 321 E. Walter Street. At 7:00 p.m. another public hearing will begin at the Near Northwest Neighborhood Center at the corner of California and Portage. On Wednesday, a 5:00 public hearing will be held at the Charles Black Center on West Washington Street while a 7:00 p.m. session will be held at the Rum Village Nature Center at 2626 Gertrude Street.
The master plan should be completed sometime in July of this year, and cover park priorities through 2018.