Elkhart has seen plenty of big investments in the last several years and now a move toward one on the south side of the city is gaining momentum.
A community conversation started in the summer of 2018 when the Elkhart City Council changed the funding for Tolson Center, which had served the south side for decades as a youth and community center.
The closing of the center sparked a larger conversation about what Tolson should and could be to best serve the community. A task force started gathering. At community meetings, interested residents offered ideas. What became clear was how much Tolson mattered to the community and how important it was in bringing the community together.
More than 500 people have attended meetings, filled our surveys, or offered opinions in other ways.
The conversation resulted in hiring GreenPlay LLC, a consulting firm that specializes in park and recreation spaces, helped re-envision what Tolson could be and a proposal came together to rebuild it and add a turf soccer field on the property.
The Community Foundation of Elkhart County and Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce convened many of the meetings and helped pay the expenses associated with the planning. Elkhart city officials have been supportive, and the election of Mayor Rod Roberson in November 2019 has propelled the proposal forward.
“When is the last time that we can think of that there was an opportunity for a $10 million investment in the center of south-central Elkhart?” Roberson told a crowd gathered in early February to see the proposal before it was presented to the Elkhart City Council. “This is for all of us,” he said, according to The Elkhart Truth. “This is for our entire community, whether you’re on the south side, north side, east side or west side. This is Elkhart.”
The proposal includes a larger building, athletic courts, a walking path and the turf field, but it also changes how Tolson would be governed. A governance structure calls for the city to support a separate non-profit to oversee the new Tolson.
The general sentiment among community members, stakeholders, mayor and City Council members is that the oversight of the executive director and staff of the Tolson Center would be best accomplished through a public/private governing body reflecting a partnership between the city, philanthropic community, and engaged citizens throughout Elkhart. The separate 501(c)3 would have an executive director and 15-member board of appointees from the city’s mayor, chamber, community foundation and others.
The funding for the new Tolson, estimated to cost $10 million, would come from a range of sources, including the private donations, the city and the Community Foundation.
There’s a lot of work yet to be done, but the larger facility and park could serve the community in exciting ways.
The proposal is in the Finance Committee of the Elkhart City Council, which will receive public input from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, February 26. The next step could be a referral to the full council in the coming days.