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Courtesy illustration

Ideas flow like water


World-renowned architect Eric Kuhne envisions a downtown riverfront with “garden rooms” and a promenade to replace overgrown brush and decay. Kuhne wants an environment that invites residents to the riverbanks instead of discouraging people from enjoying the view. On Tuesday he shared his vision of greatly expanding Headwaters Park with Fort Wayne City Council members and the rest of the community.

The architect who designed the popular and attractive Headwaters Park presented “Headwaters Park 2.0.” The plan calls for a string of garden rooms along the rivers downtown and is based on existing park plans. Headwaters Park is 30 acres; the original designs Kuhne drafted in the 1980s included 280 acres. The new plan calls for developing 120 acres – from the Main Street bridge just west of downtown to the rivers’ confluence near the water filtration plant – into parkland.

The designs include several striking features, including a fountain and water cannons near the confluence as well as a promenade near the filtration plant. The promenade would feature monuments that commemorate past floods while continuing to monitor river levels. The genius of the plan is that all elements of the park design take into consideration the likelihood of flooding and, just like Headwaters Park, are designed to accommodate floodwater.

Converting the city’s rivers into a recreational and economic development asset rather than simply an annual flood threat has long been a community priority. Every recent economic development plan – including Plan-it Allen, the Downtown Blueprint and Vision 2020 – calls for riverfront development. The issue also ranks as a top aspiration every time residents are surveyed.

But developing the rivers while maintaining the integrity of the city’s massive and expensive flood control system is a formidable challenge. The desire to develop the riverfronts, coupled with this challenge, is why a Riverfront Development Plan was the first proposal to garner a sizable chunk of money from the coveted Legacy Fund.

After designing Headwaters Park, Kuhne, a New Haven native who worked in city planning for Mayor Ivan Lebamoff, expanded his business and reputation. His London-based design firm, CivicArts, works on multimillion-dollar public projects around the world – many with a waterfront focus. He credits Headwaters Park with launching his career.

Kuhne’s design does not include commercial development. But many residents envision riverfront development as including more opportunities to shop, dine and be entertained in riverfront venues. Whether that can occur without worsening flooding is a major question, one the city hopes to answer with the riverfront plan. The advantage of Kuhne’s vision is that it would greatly enhance the rivers without contributing to flooding.

Credit is due to the Friends of the Park and the Fort Wayne-Allen County Economic Development Alliance for underwriting Kuhne’s visit. Whether or not elements of the design Kuhne presented are incorporated into the final plan, the ideas he presented were invaluable to the process. It will serve to encourage a productive discussion of what the community wants and what is possible.