Indiana Tech’s construction plans at Memorial Park raising concerns

Memorial Park

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – The Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation board gave the green light to Indiana Tech’s proposed plans in Memorial Park, but some say this will damage the historic character of the park.

Memorial Park, just east of Downtown near Indiana Tech, was built over 100 years ago to honor the men and women of Allen County who served in World War I. Indiana Tech representatives said adding their $6.4 million track, softball diamond and athletics facility will give more exposure to the park’s history.

“We feel that by increasing traffic to the park and more uses, not just by Indiana Tech but by the community, you’ll actually get more exposure to the history of what’s going on at the park,” said Brian Engelhart, Indiana Tech’s vice president of University Relations.

Groups like the Friends of the Parks of Allen County and ARCH of Fort Wayne said the park was designed as it was for an architectural reason. For example, the hilly Memorial Grove has two historic monuments and a tree grove. Each tree represents a local soldier who died in World War I.

Engelhart said to make room for the track they plan to flatten the hills, relocate the monuments and either relocate or regrow the trees.

Tom Cain, a board member of Friends of the Park, said changing the park’s features is changing history. The angelic statue atop the memorial grove was installed in 1926 to memorialize local aviation pioneer Art “Bird Boy” Smith, who died in a plane crash that year. There is also a memorial dedicated to the past, current and future veterans of Allen County.

“The relocation of the monuments proposed here significantly changes the meaning of those monuments because they were designed to be placed in those locations of the park,” he said.

Engelhard said they are open-minded.

“We’re very cognizant of the fact that it is a very historic park and our proposal to relocate memorials that really commemorate our veterans are meant to do a couple of things,” he explained. “One is to really preserve them for the future, but also to cite them in an area where they’ll actually get more visibility.”

Executive Director of ARCH, Jill McDevitt, just wants Indiana Tech to involve the community in their planning.

“Maybe with the track if there’s a possibility of locating it somewhere else or orienting it a different way,” she said. “I mean we haven’t explored those options yet and I don’t know if Indiana Tech has either. I hope maybe there are discussions along those lines to leave that grove intact, but maybe still meet everyone’s needs.”

The Parks and Recreation board said it’s important all parties come to a compromise on how to retain the park’s historical character and make sure the community has open access to the new features. While they approved Indiana Tech’s plans, they would like to hold a public discussion about them before their next board meeting on May 11.