eople ice skate at Howard Park on Saturday in South Bend. Some nearby business owners they the recently renovation has been a boon for bringing potential customers. Staff photo by Robert Franklin
eople ice skate at Howard Park on Saturday in South Bend. Some nearby business owners they the recently renovation has been a boon for bringing potential customers. Staff photo by Robert Franklin
SOUTH BEND — It’s Friday evening in downtown South Bend and activity is picking up on both sides of the St. Joseph River.

Younger people, older people and those with kids in tow are watching ice carvers at work, taking advantage of Restaurant Week dining specials or waiting in anticipation for the fireworks that will light up the winter sky later.

Chilly weather doesn’t matter. There are plenty of places to warm up.

But since the the grand reopening of Howard Park over the Thanksgiving holiday, the East Bank neighborhood is increasingly becoming the place to go for family outings, first dates or a night out with friends. The park’s recent $18.8 million overhaul includes a state-of-art ice skating ribbon in the winter, a splash pad (that double as a light show) in the summer and a modern playground open all year.

Lines to get on the ice this winter routinely snake out of the park and down St. Louis Boulevard. Some manage to claim a deck chair around one of the park’s two gas fire pits to sit and sip hot drinks as they wait.

For many bars and restaurants near the park, the sudden burst of popularity and foot traffic has resulted in booming business. That’s certainly true for Barnaby’s Family Inn on Jefferson Boulevard — catty corner to the park’s shiny new entrance — where people often migrate to enjoy pizza, beers and soft drinks after an afternoon or night of ice skating.

Though he’s not complaining, Barnaby’s owner John Stratigos admitted he was surprised by the sizable jump in business, and wishes he could have figured out a way to install a second pizza oven when he renovated the 50-year-old restaurant several years ago. Since the park reopened after being closed for more than a year, some peak wait times for pizza have eclipsed two hours because of the surge in business.
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