The proponents of the proposed takeover of much of Memorial Park for new athletic facilities, a 10,000-square- foot building, and more parking lots call it a “win-win” proposition.
Rarely, I think, has this cliché been so misused.
Clearly the proposal is a major win for the Indiana Tech athletic program, which will take over city property for its own enhancement; but the citizens of Fort Wayne – present and future, whether conservative or liberal, whether happy with who we are or concerned about what we will become – will be losers.
Lost will be a historic and attractive park, its historic center disemboweled, its memorial to our nationally known aircraft pioneer Art Smith displaced, its mature and carefully designed grove of trees dedicated to the World War I dead decimated. And lost will be the carefully developed long-range plan for its future that was worked through in open sessions with the park's current users – the citizens who live around it.
Seriously compromised will be the city's commitment to maintaining an extensive and once nationally heralded park system, one largely built on the generosity of donors who expected their legacies to be protected.
Pressures to appropriate park land for other uses, often worthy ones, go way back. The very qualities that make our parks essential to the character of the city and to the health and well-being of our citizens – their unspoiled beauty and their central locations – make them attractive to any number of other potential users.
Years ago, in response to an attempted taking for a school site, Park Board president Fred Shoaff cautioned in his annual report that our parks were not land banks waiting to be used for other purposes, but were to be preserved for their own unique contribution to the well-being of our citizens.
In support of that important principle, State Statute I.C.36-10-4-9, Sec. 9(c)(8) states that any buildings or structures built on land controlled by the park board must be owned by the city.
The current proposal is in plain violation, and any attempt to ignore or evade the unambiguous language and clear intent of the law will face a difficult challenge in court.
Memorial Park, one of our most historic parks, a living, beautifully landscaped, and, above all, unique testimonial to those who sacrificed their lives for our country, should be saved whole, historic, and as a beautiful retreat for citizens who are not necessarily athletes.
The city can work with Indiana Tech to find other sites for the school's athletic program and its attendant parking.
Our standing rule, one which will best serve the city overall, should be to preserve our parks, enhance their natural beauty, and find currently undesirable sites (often known as brown spaces) to meet these other worthy needs. In this way we really can have “win-win” solutions: Our beautiful parks are preserved while undesirable land suddenly becomes an enhancement to the overall attractiveness and character of our city.
There may be expenses and difficulties involved, but overcoming them instead of taking the easy route of taking over parks is well worth it.
John H. Shoaff, a member of the Fort Wayne Park Foundation, is a former member of Fort Wayne City Council and former member and president of the Board of Park Commissioners.