South Bend Venue Parks & Arts Plans for 2023, Potawatomi Pool Repairs
SOUTH BEND ― Several one-time capital expenditures and a reorganization of city services have inflated Venues Parks & Arts budget for 2023 to $46 million, a 51% increase over its 2022 allocation.
Although VPA Executive Director Aaron Perri said the apparent funding spike is somewhat misleading and will not form a stable part of the department’s budget, he pointed to several new projects set to happen in 2023 at the course of a presentation wednesday.
The biggest expense is about $6 million for the construction of the Dream Center at Martin Luther King Jr. Park, he said. The installation should be completed in early 2024.
The Potawatomi Zoo will receive $1.1 million under a 15-year payment plan. Another $1.5 million will be managed by VPA after the transfer of the Community Initiatives Division, which leads gun violence prevention and youth outreach programs, from the mayor’s office.
Here are five projects for 2023 that Perri has highlighted:
The Future of the Potawatomi Pool
Although the Potawatomi Park pool is generating conversation due to public demand for it to reopen next summer, Perri said no money in the department’s 2023 budget has yet been allocated to repair it.
The 67-year-old municipal pool remained closed this summer due to cracks in the concrete foundation under the pool liner, he said. City officials discovered the pool could no longer hold water when they tried to fill it this spring.
A report from Faust Engineering, which Perri said he only received early Wednesday, revealed that any repairs to just reopen the pool would cost millions of dollars.
It is unclear when or if the pool will reopen at this point. Instead of rushing to fix the aging structure, Perri said, he and the mayor’s office are taking a broader view of redevelopment. He compared the process to the closing years ago of the Howard Park ice rink, which instead of being restored was eventually replaced with an ice skating ribbon.
“We don’t have the answers right now, but we’ll have to unpack (the report),” Perri said. “Our hope is that we can recover some form of aquarium keeping in Potawatomi…in the short term while we work on this larger plan.”
Three people have said in public comments that they wish South Bend had not one but two municipal pools, proposing adding a second to Kennedy Park’s water playground on the west side. They worried about disgruntled parents being forced to take their children to Mishawaka or even Lake Michigan for a swim.
Cheryl Walsh, president of the River Park Neighborhood Association, said she thinks the community needs two pools because of the burden of transporting children miles across town. A online petition she started, which had more than 740 signatures on Wednesday, notes that the pool saw around 7,000 visitors in the eight-week period it was open last year.
“When the pool closed in Potawatomi and we were told to send our kids to Kennedy, it’s not an easy ride,” Walsh said. “And it’s not easy for the Kennedy City side to go down to Potawatomi.”
She said South Bend felt like it was “cut in this section, this section, so if you’re here you get this, if you’re here you don’t get that”.
Return of the Ethnic Festival
Perri requested around $300,000 to spend on a resurgence of the ethnic festivalwhich was one of the biggest summer events held in South Bend in the 1970s and ❜80s.
Attracting crowds that the crowded downtown Michigan Street, the festival was founded in 1974 and ran until the mid-1990s when it was renamed Summer in the City and moved to Howard Park. The event featured a variety of cuisines and music, bringing people together from different corners of the region.
The proposal would add the festival to the best week of 2023, so it would take place in the summer. This year Best week ever will take place the last week of September.
Perri said Ethnic Fest would be a pilot program, scheduled for only one year until the city receives feedback. Security and fencing are two of the most difficult factors to consider when planning the festival, he added.
“The committees we form around it should be as diverse as the vendors we have there,” Perri said, “and the effort it will take to plan that is going to take us all.”
Seitz park in progress
A $3.6 million construction project$1 million of which will be donated by the University of Notre Dame, is underway to renovate Seitz Park for a late summer 2023 reopening.
The popular gathering place near Howard Park closed in August 2019 so Notre Dame could work on a $27.1 million hydroelectric plant on the St. Joseph River. The completion date was delayed a year due to the complexity of state and federal permits needed to operate the plant while ensuring it will not harm fish or the river bottom. The park was scheduled to reopen in the fall of 2021.
The Notre Dame hydroelectric turbines in Seitz Park are now complete and producing electricity, Perri said. The plant is expected to meet around 7% of the university’s electrical needs and offset nearly 9,700 tonnes of carbon emissions each year.
The Firefighters Memorial sculpture, which has been in storage since January 2019, will be relocated to the park along with the Light Forest, which will be refurbished with new LED lights. The commemorative bricks used to raise funds for the River Lights project will be restored and the fish ladder is unchanged.
The renovated park will include a slightly larger performance pavilion, new rest areas, improvements to the bridge and East Race Drive, and a new building with concessions and year-round restrooms to replace the portable restrooms that had been used.
A new public arts coordinator
Venue Parks & Arts is looking to create a new position to diversify the talent exposed to the Morris Center for the Performing Arts and to work with public muralists, Perri said.
The Public Arts Coordinator would primarily oversee the ministry’s initiative to improve equity in the arts. The committee responsible for celebrating the Morris’ 100th anniversary offered the position after members agreed that “the arts are not equitable and accessible to everyone in our community,” Perri said.
Tell us your story:‘Morris Memories’ wanted as theater turns 100
“How can we diversify the types of acts that come into the Morris, diversify the types of promoters that seek to lease the Morris?” said Perry. He said the Morris 100 campaign was working to raise an endowment of $1 million to fund initiatives proposed by the committee.
While about 70% of the coordinator’s time is spent promoting equity, Perri said, the employee will also be an official resource for public artists looking to paint murals or create art. audience. This year’s “Mural Mania” showed a gap in the city’s response to such requests, he said.
‘Mural Mania’:South Bend hosts first-ever Mural Festival
Lots of new trees
Exactly 807 new trees are expected to be planted next year, targeted toward areas on the west and southwest sides of the city where the canopy is sparse, Perri said. That’s more than double the number of trees the city has planted each year for the past five years.
The current average of land covered by tree canopy in South Bend is 25.9%, well below American Forests’ recommended target of 40%, according to data shared by Perri. However, it is slightly higher than the statewide average of 24.6% and only slightly higher than the North Central Indiana regional average among similar communities of 25.5%.
The tree canopy “is important for public safety. It matters for property values. It matters for urban heat index and stormwater management,” Perri said. “These are important conversations to have when we talk about fairness.”
The predominantly black and Hispanic neighborhoods west of downtown, between Lincoln Way West and Sample Street, will benefit the most from planting because they experience a disproportionate lack of tree cover, according to a Tree Fairness Score analysis used by VPA.
The city will spend $50,000, plus a private donation of $50,000, to plant the trees on city-owned property. New trees are separated from those planted in parks and across the Community Canopy Tree Programsaid Perry.