Nakia Cooper hadn't yet seen all of the city's newest park Friday, but she quickly became a fan.
She peeked through a chain-link fence at the corner of Harrison and Superior streets, before the planned grand opening of Promenade Park. She could see balloons, carefully manicured landscaping and Convergence, an angel-like sculpture designed by Linda Howard near the entrance.
Cooper from Fort Wayne had questioned the park's $20 million price tag. Those concerns are gone.
“This is exciting,” she said. “I had my doubts initially. I can't wait to bring my kids and grandkids down here. Downtown needed this.”
The 4-acre park, on both sides of the St. Marys River between Harrison Street and the Wells Street Bridge, opened at 5:30 p.m. That kick-started a grand opening celebration that lasts through Sunday.
Events Friday included tours, band performances, a river lighting and merchandise sales. Dragon boat races begin today at 9:30 a.m., and boat tours and a kayak parade are also planned.
Nature Day events Sunday include a butterfly release and birdwatching.
Promenade Park includes amenities – many of them with paid sponsors – including a pavilion from the Fort Wayne Park Foundation, a trail, the PNC Playground and an amphitheater. Trubble Brewing runs a cafe there, and The Journal Gazette Foundation Dining Gardens offers a place to eat.
Fountains and the Doermer Kids' Canal – a water-filled channel with flat rocks to climb on – are places for children to play and explore, and the two-sided Sweetwater Bandshell provides space for musicians to ply their trades. An outdoor gaming area includes pingpong tables, cornhole and foosball.
Visitors can walk 20 feet above the park on the winding Parkview Tree Canopy trail on the north side of the river. Below that, a floating dock allows kayakers to get in and out of their boats.
Steve McDaniel, director of the Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation Department, led reporters on a tour before the park was opened to the public.
“This park is for everyone,” he said. “There is something for everyone here to enjoy. We hope we hit the mark on that.”
Officials broke ground in 2017 on Promenade Park, the first of a three-phase plan to develop the riverfront east and west of the area. Funding came from the city, private donations, the city's Legacy Fund, the Park Foundation and the state's Regional Cities Initiative.
Paul Spoelhof, city planning and policy director, said ideas for the second and third phases are being vetted. The Fort Wayne City Council in October approved a $2.4 million contract with Philadelphia-based David Rubin Land Collective for design and planning work for the second phase.
“They are just starting the design phase,” Spoelhof said. “That design work will really take us through the end of the year.”
The park had been slated to open in June, but a rainy spring delayed construction, and the grand opening was pushed back.
McDaniel said fluctuating river levels made it difficult to complete work on both sides of the river.
“Mother Nature was not kind to us this spring,” he said.
The project did not go over budget, and Mayor Tom Henry said Promenade Park will lure people to Fort Wayne and provide the city an economic boost.
“Tonight's official opening of the park and a weekend full of unique activities are clear examples of a community that's united and moving forward in a positive direction,” he said in a statement. “Promenade Park was a collective effort with the public and private sectors coming together to say Fort Wayne is worth investing in for today and to help ensure a bright future.”
A full schedule of events is available at riverfrontfw.org.