ELKHART - The Elkhart Redevelopment Commission has approved funding for the first phase of the city's Civic Plaza and Central Park revitalization project. The effort, which has a total preliminary budget of $5 million, will focus on enhancements to the public green space, which include a permanent performance stage and a shaded seating area.

The approval provides funding for Indianapolis-based design team Rundell Ernstberger Associates to begin design and construction documents for the project. The city says, pending contract approval by the Board of Public Works, design work on the first phase is expected to begin in April, followed by additional community engagement and completion of schematic designs in May.

Construction on the project is expected to begin by the end of the year. Phase One of the project will also include a public restroom facility and improvements to Waterfall Drive, which the city says will make the area more convenient for hosting downtown events.

The RDC has approved $1.5 million in Tax Increment Financing revenue to help fund the project. The city says it intends to pursue grand opportunities to make up the difference in funding and additional fundraising efforts may also be necessary.

Mayor Tim Neese's office says, when complete, the updated Civic Plaza and Central Park will create a vibrant civic gathering space for downtown Elkhart.