The promise of Promenade Park began years ago. More and more growth in downtown Fort Wayne brought a renewed interest in appreciating the three rivers which provides the city with so much of its identity.
As Headwaters Park provided a venue for a summer filled with festivals and Parkview Field renewed the city’s pride in its historic downtown areas, the time was ripe for the development on the city’s riverfront.
Ready for the big day
While plans and hopes had been pinned to the development for years, it was in 2011 that the seeds of the project were planted. With the establishment of Legacy Fort Wayne, a fund Mayor Tom Henry began through the Light Lease Settlement and Fort Wayne Community Trust funds, $75 million was put aside to help continue the growth and prosperity of the city.
As public support grew for a number of projects, many specifically attached to the development of the Riverfront, by 2015 funding was allocated for the beginning of Phase I. And it is that phase that Fort Wayne celebrates with the grand opening celebration of Promenade Park August 9-11.
August was not the original time for the new park’s debut, but in May it was announced there would be a delay. The team involved with the project, particularly Megan Butler, Riverfront Fort Wayne Program and Events Manager, knew everything needed to be fully completed before the park could open.
“As we came close to that date, we began to realize it wasn’t going to be ready,” said Natalie Eggeman, public information officer for the Mayor’s office. “We contacted the sponsors and let everyone know in May. It was frustrating, but it was very important that the park be finished when we opened, and Mother Nature just didn’t cooperate.
“On the plus side, it did give us more time to plan the grand opening. Megan and her team and our marketing team always said they wanted to have a ‘wow factor,’ and this has given us more time to plan for that ‘wow factor.’”
Events kick off on Friday, August 9, at 5:30 p.m. with a ribbon cutting at Superior and Harrison.
Then Mayor Henry welcomes visitors at 6 p.m. — from the floating stage. The Harlow Enterprises Floating Stage is a recurring element to the weekend, and it will provide the setting for the featured band performance at 10 p.m. that evening. (The band for that slot is a tightly guarded secret at this time.)
The Sweetwater Bandshell will then host a variety of acts throughout the evening: El Camino Hot Tub at 7 p.m., Fort Wayne Children’s Choir Youth Chorale at 7:30, Secret Mezzanine at 8, Broken Pencil Improv at 8:30, The Legendary Trainhoppers at 9, and Maumee, Mary, & Joseph Comedy at 9:30. There will also be spectacular exhibit on the river to round out the evening with Pyroscope Performance & Shindigz on the St. Marys River.
But the night is not just for passively enjoying music, comedy, and lights on the river. There will be tours of the park all night long, and the PNC Playground will host children’s activities all evening.
“The playground is awesome,” Eggeman said. “You can walk along the canopy trail and then take the slide, and you land right in the playground. It’s a poured-in-place rubberized material, and it’s really bouncy, I guess is the best way to describe it. I actually took the slide the other day, and it feels totally safe. It’s like walking in moon boots or something.”
The highlight of Saturday, August 10, dubbed as Recreation Day, is the Dragon Boat races. There will also be a kayak parade and lighted boat parade later in the evening.
Sunday, August 11, is Nature Day and will feature urban birdwatching, a butterfly release, and Project Squirrel. For those who have not participated in a previous Project Squirrel event, it is described as an opportunity “to observe and collect data about the squirrels found along our rivers and share that information with scientists.”
After dark, gather at the Auer Lawn for a bit of Stargazing on the Riverfront with Fort Wayne Astronomical Society. There’s a little something for every nature lover.
More than just one weekend
While there is much excitement about the grand opening, Promenade Park is more than just a weekend celebration and will provide a new destination for years to come.
Trubble Riverside Café & Tap opens that weekend and will be a great lunchtime stop for a meal and possibly a beer or two if your lunch hour allows for such indulgences. Trubble will also be the place to sign out paddles and various equipment for using the permanent foosball and ping pong tables which will be available year round.
And for those who wonder if the park will be open during the winter, fire pits have been installed to encourage use around the calendar, regardless of the weather. The pavilion will also provide respite from the elements. Making stops there for lunches or dinners or picnics even more enjoyable is the grass surface on which people can sit, one that’s accessible to everyone.
“The Auer Lawn is a great grassy area for picnics,” Eggeman said. “The grass has been fortified so that it’s wheelchair accessible. We were there recently with a cameraman who had a tripod, and Patti Hays of AWS Foundation pointed out that on normal grass, that tripod would have sunk into the grass just as a wheelchair sinks and can be difficult to move on normal grass. But on this grass there’s no problem with that. And yet it’s soft and comfortable to sit on and feels good and is like regular grass.”
The schedule is full for the entire weekend, and there is something for everyone, just as there will be festivals and programming throughout the year.
For more information and a complete list and description of activities, visit the website riverfrontfw.org.
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