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Aaron Perri to leave South Bend parks department for private sector role

 Aaron Perri
Photo provided, City of South Bend
Aaron Perri

After overseeing the reopening of Howard Park and the introduction of the river lights, among other projects, Aaron Perri is stepping down as South Bend’s executive director of Venues, Parks and Arts.

Perri has been with the city for over a decade serving as the director of Downtown South Bend before being named director of the parks department in 2016. Perri said he’s leaving in order to start a new job in the private sector.

“I’m grateful to Mayor Mueller for the opportunity to serve my hometown, for the efforts of my committed city colleagues who will carry our momentum forward, and for the extremely generous support of this community,” Perri said in a release. “While no words of thanks could ever suffice, I hope the value of your contributions are reflected well in the things you cherish most in our city.”

During Perri’s tenure, the city saw the $19 million renovation of Howard Park as well as improvement to many of South Bend’s trails and the introduction of the river lights display. The parks department also celebrated the 100th birthday of the Morris Performing Arts Center last year and South Bend’s 150th anniversary in 2015.

Though recent renovations to Howard Park may be the most visible project for residents, Perri said he's most proud of the South Bend Parks & Trails initiative, which saw nearly $100 million put towards around 50 different park projects.

"Those are forever going to change the landscape of our neighborhoods and the community as a whole," Perri said. "It's what helps make South Bend a destination, not only for visitors, but a destination for people looking to move here. Most importantly, it makes it a livable and loveable community."

Beyond the eye-catching projects, VPA made smaller improvements to a number of parks throughout the city, including Pulaski and Pinhook parks and the installation of the Studebaker Fountain at Leeper Park. The city last year also renovated a number of parks to include more pickleball courts.

Looking forward, the renovation of Seitz Park near downtown is set to open later this year and the city has earmarked $6 million towards the construction of the Dream Center at Martin Luther King Jr. Park on Linden Avenue.

“Venues Parks and Arts would not be what it is today without Aaron’s dedication and leadership,” said South Bend Mayor James Mueller in a statement. “I am thankful for his service to our community and his efforts to transform our shared public spaces. I wish him the best in his next chapter.”

Perri took over for longtime parks department director Phil St. Clair in 2015. As part of that transition, then-Mayor Pete Buttigieg reorganized the parks department to also include managing city venues like the Morris and the Century Center.

Perri also explored a run for mayor to succeed Pete Buttigieg in 2019, but did not officially declare his candidacy.

Perri didn't say which company he's moving to, but said he will stay in South Bend as part of a national firm that consults with municipalities.

VPA’s deputy director Jordan Gathers will lead the parks department while Mueller decides on the VPA’s next director. Perri’s last day is June 1.

Marek Mazurek has been with WVPE since April 2023, though he's been in Michiana for most of his life. He has a particular interest in public safety reporting. When he's not on the radio, Marek enjoys getting way too into Notre Dame football and reading about medieval English history.