On Tuesday, Mayor Tom Henry – flanked by many energetic and smiling children taking a break from the Lifetime Sports Academy – unveiled long-awaited plans to convert the unused McMillen Ice Arena into a community center. He was not only announcing a new project that will add another gem to the city’s park system, but he also was keeping a promise to an underserved segment of the community.
We’re in the process of really meeting a need that for quite some time has gone unmet, Henry said.
He said the Youth Sports Champion Team, created to help determine how to spend Legacy Fund dollars, made the community center a top priority and noted the Fort Wayne City Council’s unanimous support for dedicating $2 million from the Legacy Fund for the community center project. Henry also acknowledged that without the Legacy money the project would not be possible.
Councilman Tom Didier, R-3rd, who serves on the Youth Sports task force, seemed to take particular joy in being able to celebrate the occasion with fellow Councilman Glynn Hines, who represents the McMillen Park area and has, rightly, exerted strong pressure on city and park leaders to keep the project moving forward.
When this facility was an ice rink and we moved the ice rink out north, I committed to Glynn Hines that we would put something here that would be for the whole community, Didier said. This is not going to be a facility that just serves the south side, but the whole community.
Hines said he was specifically pleased that the center would offer opportunities for people of all ages and would become another asset, another jewel for the whole city.
We don’t have anything like this anywhere. Never have, said Henry. That’s why this really is transformational.
The plans, created by the local architectural firm MSKTD and Associates Inc., call for converting the old ice arena into a community center that will provide athletic, educational and cultural programs for all age groups. It will include basketball courts, an indoor track, a soccer field with artificial turf and multipurpose rooms.
City park officials estimate that the project will cost $4.5 million, with the first phase coming in at $1.9 million.
They hope to open the center in time for summer programming in 2014.
The project is indeed an excellent use of scarce dollars. But along with seeing that the community center is built, city and park leaders need to make sure that the venture is sustainable. They should plan now to find the resources for the maintenance and upkeep of the building so that is remains an asset to the community.