SOUTH HAVEN — Many South Haven residents have fond memories of sledding down the hill at Baer Park during the winter months. Soon, their children will be able to gather similar memories when the park re-opens for public use.
The public’s use of the park is being made possible courtesy of an agreement reached between South Haven city officials and the Central Lofts II homeowners association, which owns the property.
“This is something city staff has worked on for years,” City Manager Brian Dissette said. “For us we’re excited to potentially cross the finish line to return Baer Park to the community.”
Baer Park is a rectangular green space located in a bowl-shaped area on Center Street behind the former Central School. The park was named for the late Dave Baer, who served as a teacher and award-winning football and baseball coach for South Haven Public Schools during the early 1900s.
But when South Haven Public Schools closed Central School during the early 2000s and sold the buildings to be redeveloped into condominium lofts, Baer Park was part of the sale and kids had to go elsewhere for sledding.
However, that is now changing. City council members on Monday approved an agreement with the homeowners association that will create a “perpetual” easement on a large portion of the green space. A four-foot fence will be erected near the condos to separate the homes from the public space and the sledding hill.
Hammering out an agreement with the condo association to allow Baer Park to be used by the public has been one of city council’s priorities this year. With its close proximity to downtown, the council felt it was important to try to create as many public green spaces as possible.
“We’ve talked about this for years,” Mayor Scott Smith said. “To have that space available to the public is wonderful.”
Although the green space has been referred to for years as Baer Park, it’s never been included in the city’s park system and still won’t be. However, the city’s park rules will still apply, according to Dissette.
“Anyone can walk their dog, play football, go sledding – those are now options available to the public,” Dissette said.
The agreement the city reached with the homeowner’s association also stipulates that the land will be maintained predominately in its natural and open condition and that structures will not be constructed on the property without city and association approval.