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South Bend’s Howard Park undergoes $18 million renovation

| Thursday, December 5, 2019

Happy laughter mixed with cheerful screaming as children ran, jumped and glided down the bright green slides on the playground at South Bend’s Howard Park. Around them, couples and individuals alike made the most of the frosty afternoon by looping around the park’s new ice skating trail. A few took some tumbles but laughed it off, their smiles adding to the joyful cacophony that filled the air of the newly renovated and reopened park.

Howard Park, located near downtown in 219 S St. Louis Blvd, is the city of South Bend’s oldest park. During the past 14 months, the 120-year-old park was essentially a construction site, but on Nov. 29 it opened its doors to showcase its newly transformed state.

The renovation comprised an $18 million investment, which was funded through tax increment financing (TIF) bonds, park bonds and private donations.

“It’s been exciting to have this public-private partnership opportunity to build something really cool for our community,” the city of South Bend’s director of recreation, Jonathan Jones said.

The park now boasts an ice trail and pond, a playground, a support building, a concession stand, an interactive series of water fountains, an event lawn for concerts and a community building as part of its amenities. A restaurant facility, described as both “family-friendly” and “older-crowd pleasing” by Jones, is still under construction and will be completed in spring next year.

The ice trail is the project’s hallmark. Jones called it a “world-class ice skating experience,” as the attraction includes varying terrain where participants are able to skate uphill, downhill and through several undulations; a combined 55,982 feet of underground plumbing to maintain the trail’s cool surface; and a ground-breaking stretch of skating over a bridge.

“As far as we are aware we are the only location in the nation at the current time that has an ice skating attraction were people are actually skating over a bridge,” Jones said.

Jones said Howard Park’s renovation is an attempt to unite the South Bend community. To achieve this goal, accessibility to the park was the cornerstone of the project. As such, equipment to accommodate people with disabilities was integrated into the park.

“The entire playground is Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessible in a variety of different ways. For instance, the playground has especially-made equipment,” Jones said. “The ice trail also has special equipment so we can assist wheelchair-bound individuals who want to skate on the trail as well.”

Another way the park strives to bring people together is through providing the space to host different events. For this reason, the community center features a 150 people banquet-style setting and air walls to accommodate three smaller rooms, accounting for an environment that “is perfect for bridal showers, wedding receptions, gatherings, and any special celebration,” Jones said.

Howard Park’s revamping is part of the overarching My South Bend Parks and Trails Initiative, a $50 million investment into the city’s park system, which, according to Jones, is the “single largest investment into parks in the history of South Bend.”

As part of this campaign, the city has renovated other facilities, upgraded park structures and created more pedestrian-friendly areas throughout the park system.

Moreover, these projects have strived to meet the city’s sustainability efforts, Jones said. As such, Howard Park is LEED certified and is outfitted with energy-efficient technology.

Such efforts and investments were made in order to “bring people together, make greater use of the park property, and really make a major impact on quality of life for individuals in South Bend,” Jones said, noting that Notre Dame is also part of the city’s community.

“It’s a great opportunity for students to venture into South Bend and have a great experience outside of campus,” Jones said.

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