Howard Park improvements celebrated

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) - Howard Park is the oldest park in the city of South Bend, yet even the most seasoned resident would not have been able to recognize the place Friday.

A festival was held to celebrate $18.9 million worth of improvements there.

The grand opening of the new park included live music, food, the ribbon cutting and special performances.

“It’s a family-friendly festival. We’ve got all kinds of games and activities and giveaways, different characters roaming around, and our signature playground will be open for the very first time to the public,” said Aaron Perri, director of Venues, Parks and Arts.

"I haven't seen anything like this before. I've seen things that were almost as cool as this," said a young girl, Cloie Davis.

Howard Park has long been known as the park with the ice rink, but now the rink has been replaced with a smaller ice "pond" and a "ribbon," or an ice trail that runs throughout the park.

"It's really been phenomenal; a big challenge in a lot of ways, but what was delivered in the end is everything you see tonight, and the reviews are pretty good," said designer with Alliance Architects, William Lamie.

"You know the whole idea of our vision for investing in parks and recreation in the city is to make sure that every neighborhood has a quality park, but this is really a crown jewel of the system because this is designed to belong to everyone, and we think visitors from around the region will come take advantage of this facility," said South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

Olympic champion figure skater Brian Boitano was in town to be among the first to try it out.

“If you’re in Indianapolis and we have some stores in Indianapolis Mark, you know all the parks, the Monon Trail, properties are selling for $1 million along a park trail, and the most valuable property in this country is near parks -- Yellowstone, Central Park -- so the city’s finally gotten it. I think this is really going to have a major mipact,” said Mark Tarner, who will operate a full-service restaurant called Howard Park Public House on the grounds.

There are two concert-type venues on the grounds, and it was announced Friday that the Riverlights Music Festival would be moved to Howard Park in 2020.

“It’s just a place where we can come to celebrate the best of what South Bend has to offer. It’s a place that people will come, I think, and bring their visitors when they're in town, want to show off as a community, and we know this is something people have really been craving,” Perri said.

"Well we’ve been looking forward to this day for years, and it shows what can happen as we gather public dollars and private support to make sure South Bend’s central park is a treasure that generations can enjoy for the future," Buttigieg said.