For a community attempting to move forward in these parsimonious times, public-private partnerships are welcome. But sometimes, they just don't work out.
A month ago, Indiana Tech proposed a partnership with the city on development of Memorial Park – an almost-hundred-year-old area set aside after World War I to honor those who died in defense of their country.
Indiana Tech's $6.4 million plan for the underutilized park included creating a new track-and-field facility and a softball stadium to be used by the college's teams and students and by the public year-round, and an athletic training office.
Over the past two decades, Indiana Tech has transformed a once-aging campus into a sparkling center of activity on the east side of central Fort Wayne, also rejuvenating nearby neighborhoods. The college's plans for Memorial Park, just a short distance east of the campus, seemed like a way to extend that transformation even further.
But it soon became clear the project would require moving three of the park's memorials: the towering monument to Fort Wayne aviator Art Smith; the beautifully sculpted World War I gateway; and what remains of a grove of trees planted in honor of that war's dead.
Opposition erupted as soon as those aspects of the plan became known. As The Journal Gazette's Dave Gong reported, among the dozens who lined up to speak against the proposal at a public hearing last Thursday were “veterans, children and grandchildren of veterans, and one young man dressed as a World War I soldier named Sammy.”
This week, Indiana Tech announced that it was withdrawing its proposal. In the face of such public angst, that decision was perhaps inevitable.
“We obviously are disappointed,” said Parks Director Al Moll. “We thought this was a very positive plan. Very rarely do you have an organization step up and provide something of this scale.”
But he said he understands Indiana Tech's decision to withdraw the plan, as well as the opponents' position.
“It was never our intent to discredit our veterans but, unfortunately, that was the impression some had,” Moll said.
On the positive side, the debate reaffirmed the community's love and support for its parks, he said. It also raised awareness of Memorial Park's attributes.
“I hope some of that passion will translate into support for the park,” he said.
Indeed. The park advocacy and veterans groups rallying to protect it have done just half the job. Memorial Park still needs their help.
• The parks department had planned to resurface roads, but the paving work was pulled from a project list because it was on Indiana Tech's list of contributions.
• Memorial Park monuments are part of an ongoing plan for renovations, but Moll said the repair list stretches two to five years with available funds of about $50,000 a year.
• The park's memorial grove once had about 150 trees and plaques, each dedicated to a local soldier fallen in World War I. Now most of the plaques and all but about 20 of the trees are gone.
Next year, the nation will celebrate the centennial of the end of what was once called the War to End All Wars, which came with the signing of an armistice on Nov. 11, 1918. Eighteen days later, Memorial Park was dedicated. Those determined to protect the park can now turn to sprucing it up for the anniversary. The groups can take on a fundraising effort to restore monuments, revive the tree grove and make the park an attractive place to honor our veterans and reflect on their sacrifices.