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Despite winter, city warming to 3 parks projects

With winter almost out of the way, city parks are gearing up for a new season.

Fort Wayne Park and Recreation Department board members heard details Thursday of three projects expected to be finished before fall, including Freimann Square, McMillen Community Center and a new pavilion at Bob Arnold Northside Park.

The Freimann Square improvements include the restoration of the Anthony Wayne statue, trimming and removing some trees for better visibility of the statue, adding lighting, new benches and landscaping.

The first phase of the project is expected to cost $151,000, Parks Director Al Moll said. Courthouse Preservation Trust officials have pledged $125,000 toward the project, and the difference will be picked up by the department, Moll said.

A controversy arose last year after Mayor Tom Henry had proposed moving the statue to the Courthouse Green, saying it would make the statue of Fort Wayne’s namesake much more visible and enhance the Allen County Courthouse.

But the preservation trust, which raised money for the renovation of the Courthouse and also raised money to clear and create the Courthouse Green, objected strenuously, saying anything placed on the green would detract from the historic Courthouse.

The improved lighting and landscaping will make the statue clearly visible from all corners – Clinton and Main streets and from the Courthouse Green, Moll said.

“This would have never happened at all without them (Courthouse Preservation Trust) giving us a kick,” he said.

A second phase of the project will include more lighting and benches throughout the park at a cost of $200,000 to $250,000.

That phase will be paid over three years with a portion of the Freimann Trust, Moll said. The project is expected to be done by midsummer or fall, Moll said.

Renovations at Bob Arnold Northside Park on East State Boulevard will include an open-air pavilion with new picnic tables, grills and benches, the parks department’s Perry Ehresman said. A new patio area will also be built next to the pool.

The project is expected to cost $88,000 and is expected to be completed by Memorial Day, Ehresman said.

The pavilion is in a grassy area near the pool and will be available to rent for birthday parties, family gatherings or small corporate events, he said.

Rental rates were also set for the new McMillen Community Center in southeast Fort Wayne, that will open June 7.

The entire project was estimated to cost about $4.5 million; the first phase will cost about $1.9 million. The center will offer plenty of free park programs but will also rent rooms, an arena, basketball courts, a soccer field and charge a team fee for sports tournaments, said Bennie Lewis, manager of neighborhood programs.

Lewis said there will also be plenty of free time on the courts and ballfields and that he expected reservations for rentals to fill quickly.

The Parks Department hopes to generate about $100,000 a year from rentals and fees and will spend about $600,000 to $700,000 in expenses at the center, Ehresman said.

“That would be good, considering we have three other centers that operate at a $575,000 a year loss,” he said.

The board introduced an ordinance that would allow alcohol to be served at the center during private events only and only in the confined space of the rented room. The permits would have to be clearly posted, a licensed bartender would be required to serve drinks and uniformed security would be scheduled by the Parks Department but paid by the renter.

The decision is subject to City Council approval.

“We’ve rarely had an issue with this in other parks,” Moll said. “It’s very controlled.”