ELKHART — About 50 community members gathered at City Hall on late Tuesday afternoon to look at and discuss the latest design of the new green space at what is today Central Park, but will become a part of Central Plaza.
Phase one of the revamped Civic Plaza and Central Park, the phase concerning the green space, is estimated to cost about $4.5 million, but a call for bids has yet to go out.
The city and Rundell Ernstberger Associates, the group charged with creating the designs, have been gathering public input on a master plan for the entire area since the fall of 2019, but Tuesday’s meeting was completely focused on the green space. According to Dan Liggett, an associate with REA, the city expects to begin requesting bids in October for constructing this phase.
The current design features a cafe, restrooms, scene, event lawn, quilt garden and shaded area under new trees.
“Things we’re hearing today are just, in general, the type of plans people want to see, maybe more landscaping, maybe more amenities for pets,” Liggett said.
The master plan has shown a playground toward the corner of Waterfall Drive and Franklin Street, but that did not show up in the green space design on Tuesday.
“The playground was identified in phase two of our plan,” Liggett said. “It’s not gone, necessarily, it’s just in a later phase.”
Doug Mulvaney, an Elkhart resident who has taken part in previous public input sessions, was one of the community members who showed up and spoke with Liggett on Tuesday.
“It’s nice to see the plans starting to take shape,” Mulvaney said.
He said he believes the city and REA have done a good job at listening to people’s concerns and adjusting during the input phases.
But, “there are still some things that we have some questions on,” he said.
That includes how exactly the walkway from Central Plaza to the Marion Street parking garage will be improved to make up for the loss of parking lots by the park. However, that will also be an issue for a later construction phase.
Another issue that is not involved in phase one, but that many have opinions about, are proposed buildings along Franklin Street.
“We’re still a little nervous that they want to put buildings along the Franklin Street side,” Mulvaney said. “To see how that’s going to look downtown in terms of size and stuff.”
Some are concerned that buildings by Franklin Street would block the view of the Lerner Theatre and IUSB, which can be viewed as some of the city’s more attractive buildings. But there’s a reason that new buildings would be on that side and not High Street on the other end of the park.
“It’s easier to access. That’s why we located it on that area,” Liggett said.
The buildings have many proponents and opponents, he said, but a decision on whether they will actually go up has yet to be made.
“It’s still a potential,” he said. “We showed it in the master plan that we presented but, yeah, it has not been decided.”
A decision could depend on the local economy, changing the feasibility or necessity for putting up buildings, according to Liggett.
As for the possible playground, Mulvaney said he hopes that will be added in the next phase. He was pleased to see that Waterfall Drive will be kept open. The city, however, will make the street by the Elkhart River easier to close for large events.
Liggett said it’s too early to estimate the price for the entire Central Plaza project, as designs aren’t finalized and it’s unknown when the next phases would begin.
The timeline for constructing phase one is also unknown, since it would depend on the firm that wins the bid, Liggett said, though he mentioned a time span of 8-12 months as a possibility.
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