Blending Historic & Modern Design

Fort Wayne, IN
December 18, 2023

Riverfront Phase IIA Serves as a vital connection linking two distinct parks in downtown Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Located along the St. Marys River – less than a quarter mile apart – Headwaters Park and Promenade Park are two very different and unique Fort Wayne destinations.

Headwaters Park, completed in 1999, was designed as a means for flood control in the City. With the first set of plans drawn by an architect in 1912, it boasted a long history before it was even built. Today? It features wide meandering walkways and open greenspaces with room for festivals and other large-scale events.

To the west, Promenade Park was built in 2019 and features a modern and innovative design. It showcases the natural environment alongside multiple entertainment venues, offering open playscapes and water features with a focus on accessibility.

What separated the two parks? A fenced-off and windowless industrial facility. And a parking lot with trees and brush that interrupted views of the river.

Ultimately, there was a lack of quality connection for pedestrians to walk or bike between the parks.

Riverfront Phase IIA is located between Headwaters Park and Promenade Park, serving as a vital connection between the two.  

In 2020, as part of a riverfront redevelopment effort, JPR was hired by the City of Fort Wayne to develop the public space between Headwaters and Promenade Parks – referred to as Riverfront Phase IIA.

At the same time, the Riverfront at Promenade Park Apartments was also being constructed. This 6-story, mixed-use development includes approximately 30,000 square feet of office space, 200 apartments, 7 townhomes, and a 900-space parking garage. The Riverfront Phase IIA project serves as an extension of the development’s amenity space while also providing stunning views.

The design team collaborated with the City and stakeholders to develop a concept that blended the historical and modern aesthetics of Headwaters and Promenade Parks into one space – covering approximately 1-acre of land.

To create a cohesive design, the team studied the neighboring parks and pulled materials and site furnishings into the project. For instance, the traditional style of light poles at Headwaters Park were juxtaposed with the modern style of Promenade Park chairs and guard railing. The design team also integrated the distinctive wall detailing from Headwaters Park onto the reconstructed wall bordering Riverfront at Promenade Park Apartments. This effectively extended the Headwaters Park style to Harrison Street.

The elements within Riverfront Phase IIA are a blend of traditional components found in Headwaters Park and the modern style of Promenade Park.

During the project, developing an inclusive design was especially important. The team worked closely with The League-Fort Wayne to ensure this was achieved.

“The goal was to get their feedback on certain elements and incorporate as many as we could into the design of the park, making it as universally functional as possible,” said JPR Project Engineer Claire Eltzroth, PE.

Key elements included:    

• A guide that ran the length of the main walkway    

• Contrasting horizontal banding at specific intervals    

• Tactile guide for the visually impaired    

• Tables and benches throughout the site with open space for wheelchairs    

• Intimate seating locations for areas of respite    

• Sensory garden along the walkway    

• Stabilized soil mixture in the lawn area to accommodate wheelchairs

The design process resulted in a beautiful park with native plantings, meandering walkways, and a bioswale for stormwater management. It also features an area full of social spaces with lookout points to the river, interactive boulders for play and seating, and open lawn for passive activities. A plaza with ample seating opportunities, and the anticipation of future outdoor dining, is also located off the apartment complex.

A textured guide and contrasting colored concrete provides aid for the visually impaired.

This project did not come without its challenges.

Since the park space was vastly located within the floodplain of the St. Marys River, the overall design and grading of the site was critical for success. After performing a quick analysis early in the design process, the team knew that having a balanced site would be challenging given the conditions provided by the City’s sewer outfall infrastructure and the desire for an accessible site. Knowing this early allowed the team to make informed design decisions that would promote the goals of the project, while also ensuring that the required permits could be successfully secured.

During the design process, the team closely monitored the balance of cut and fill volumes to ensure that the flood storage capacity was not decreased. Using this knowledge, the design team was able to incorporate unique, sustainable elements into the plan – such as a bioswale to aid in the cut/fill balance and to incorporate stormwater storage. The bioswale meanders through the park, crossing beneath several of the walking paths, and large boulders were strategically placed within it to create playful pathways for the more adventurous park user.

Filled with native plantings, the bioswale not only stores and filters stormwater from the park, but also from the plaza and amenity space of the adjacent development.

“JPR’s team is extremely talented and dedicated,” said Stacy Haviland, PLA, ASLA, Program Manager for Stormwater Management and Sustainability for the City Utilities Engineering Department. “They seamlessly incorporated all the park and stormwater treatment features we requested on a site with a multitude of constraints. Their attention to detail allowed us to build a bioswale in a floodplain that meets all permitting requirements including the meticulous balance of cut and fill quantities.”

Large boulders were strategically placed within the bioswale to create a playful pathway for more adventurous park users.

Due to the location of Riverfront Phase IIA and its existing site uses, effective coordination between many groups was vital. In fact, the success of this project is a testament to the collaborative efforts of numerous stakeholders.

The design team worked closely with the City of Fort Wayne Community Development Department, which led the project in conjunction with Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation. It was important to design the park with future maintenance in mind. To do this, our team coordinated directly with the Parks Department staff who would oversee the maintenance of Riverfront Phase IIA.

Fort Wayne City Utilities, having recently installed extensive utility infrastructure on the property including an electrical power feed to service the needs of the park, provided valuable insights into their access and ongoing maintenance needs. Additionally, beneath the property lies a section of Fort Wayne’s deep rock tunnel project, with an outfall located within Riverfront Phase IIA. The design team coordinated extensively with City Utilities regarding the design and as-built conditions of this utility infrastructure.

Effective coordination was also required with the Riverfront at Promenade Park Apartments development to manage the stormwater from their amenity spaces within the park’s bioswale. Along with that, the design team developed creative details for a wall that was reconstructed along the south side of the park to protect the adjacent development’s rammed aggregate pier (RAP) system using shallow footings and a grade beam. Furthermore, the main pathway within the park was designed to provide the fire truck access that was required for proper protection of the development. This coordination extended beyond the design phase and continued throughout construction, as both projects were constructed concurrently and utilized the park site for access and laydown space.

Other important stakeholders were the permitting agencies who reviewed the project for compliance – DNR, IDEM, ACOE, local floodplain management, and local jurisdictions.

Prior to construction, the area consisted of a parking lot and fenced-off industrial facility. Now, Riverfront Phase IIA offers visitors a beautiful area to relax and enjoy nature.

“The JPR team was absolutely great to work with,” said Chad Shaw, PLA, ASLA, Superintendent of Landscape and Horticulture for Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation. “They were able to not only recognize and deal with all of the various challenges of the site … but all the while calmly approaching each challenge and confidently integrating each design solution into a user-friendly, functional, and beautiful site that seamlessly connected two distinctly different parks.”

Designed to provide a vital connection between Promenade Park and Headwaters Park, Riverfront Phase IIA filled a missing piece of park space on the south side of the St. Marys River.

The investment was approximately $2.5 million, and a ribbon cutting ceremony for the completion of Riverfront Phase IIA was held on June 27, 2023.

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