Monday, October 15, 2007

Seeing The Forest Through The Trees

Consensus for revival
Downtown could become region's entertainment, business hub

"If downtown Fort Wayne were worse off, reaching a consensus on how to get better might come more easily. That's one lesson Lutheran Hospital CEO Joe Dorko learned when he joined the Invent Tomorrow trip to Chattanooga, Tenn., last week. That also helps explain why the Harrison Square project is so contentious."

"Stop regarding opposition to Harrison Square as unthinking obstructionism. Even people who want to see downtown bloom again may not think a baseball stadium and a new hotel are the best stimuli for new development.

And because tens of millions of taxpayer dollars will be used to fund Harrison Square, elected officials aren't insulated from political heat the same way that early proponents of revitalization in Chattanooga were. In Chattanooga, foundations and businesses paid most of the early costs.

No one should think Harrison Square will be the kind of draw that Chattanooga's first revitalization attraction, the Tennessee Aquarium, is. It averages about 1 million visitors a year. And even when tourism takes off, jobs created are disproportionately low-wage jobs.

Nevertheless, John Sampson, president and CEO of the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership,said Harrison Square can contribute to a rebound downtown and beyond.

Projects such as Harrison Square “don't create a lot of high-value jobs, but they create a place where people want to live, so that we can speak as highly of ourselves as they do in Chattanooga,” Sampson said."

"Ideally, Fort Wayne's downtown can become an important business and entertainment hub, too — if it can overcome its peculiar handicap of not being run-down enough to persuade people that it needs help.

“We have a presentable downtown. It's clean. It's safe. … But we don't have a lot of economic activity down there,” Sampson said."

Capital makes the difference for downtown
But will foundations here provide it, as in Chattanooga?

"As impressive as Chattanooga's downtown revitalization is, local real estate agent Jeff Vaughan came away from his visit there more optimistic about Fort Wayne.

“We have so many more assets and so many fewer problems than Chattanooga,” he said upon his return this weekend. In the quality of housing stock and condition of commercial buildings downtown, Fort Wayne outshines Chattanooga, he said."

"More than 20 years ago, the leaders of Chattanooga's Lyndhurst Foundation decided that reviving the city's economy was a more pressing need than supporting any single charitable cause.

That foundation — along with many others — has contributed millions of dollars to the city's revitalization every year since. Lyndhurst grants directly linked to revitalization totaled more than $4 million in 2005, for example.

That continuing dedication of foundation funds to revitalization has insulated resident taxpayers from much of the cost. It also protected the revitalization movement from shifting political opinion. But it's far from the only thing that helped the city."

"Dorko mentioned the consolidation of permitting processes in Chattanooga and Hamilton County, Tenn., which means developers can obtain permits more quickly and easily than in many cities, including Fort Wayne.

Becker and Wagner both were impressed by the profusion of public art in Chattanooga. Wagner said major public construction in Chattanooga requires that 1 percent of its cost be devoted to public art. Sculptures, stone inlays and other art adorns parks, the riverfront and city streets."


scott spaulding said...

"Ideally, Fort Wayne's downtown can become an important business and entertainment hub, too — if it can overcome its peculiar handicap of not being run-down enough to persuade people that it needs help."

A downtown devoid of people after 5 PM is just as much an eyesore as a downtown with dilapidated buildings and broken down streets. In no way should people be content with the current state of downtown if a lively downtown that is compelling and meaningful is the goal.

There is a distinct lack of housing options in the downtown core. This should be the first target of any newly infused capital.

Anonymous said...

Revitalizing downtwon Fort Wayne can work and totally change this boring place we call home. But - we have to get the right person in as Mayor to get the job done. Kelty has fought this thing tooth and nail, he certainly won't be an advocate for it. Henry has been able to see the broad picture and has shown enthusiasm for the project. Kets do what we can to get Henry in as Mayor. Fort Wayne may will become a much better place.

Joe said...

Many people are unhappy with the project because of it being about 50/50 public and private funding. I think that some future downtown projects do need to be completely privately funded to "even things out" so to speak. And hopefully there are people out there who are willing and able to fund such projects to give more entertainment options in our downtown. However, I know myself and other young people in this city are just not willing to wait 15-20 years for these projects to possibly come to fruitition. Harrison Square is something concrete, and it is now. It's a start.

John B. Kalb said...

Scott S. - Fort Wayne's downtown IS an important business hub! Where do you get the "- can become"?
Again, it's only the "play-pen seeking" young people who desire to make it an "entertainment hub"!
Our downtown is not "devoid of people after 5 PM" - the library is busy until 8:50 - the Embassy has something going most nights, we have many, many events at Headwaters Park (in the summer - with ice skating in winter when they don't play baseball. I don't see what you mean by "an eyesore". And what, in heavens name, do you see in a downtown baseball stadium that makes it "meaningful"?
If you build downtown housing, they will come! Real estate developers don't need our tax money to enable them to invest in downtown housing! Our discussion of offering it, only delays it's happening - the developers are delaying to wait for the "dole". John B. Kalb

scott spaulding said...

John, my first paragraph has quotes around it because it's a quote from the article that I am referring to.

Obviously we have different ideas of what makes for a good downtown.

There's no doubt that ballparks belong in city centers.

John B. Kalb said...

Scott S. - I missed that. I assume you are enjoying the AL Pennant games - I sure am - my two favored teams against each other - wish I was at the Jake tonight! John B. Kalb

scott spaulding said...

I'll definitely be looking into World Series tickets at the Jake. Almost went to Detroit last time but the Tigers didn't win enough games to make it back to Motown!

Scott said...

"Again, it's only the 'play-pen seeking' young people who desire to make it an 'entertainment hub'!"

I see this as a generational and socio-economic divide that this project has created. The blue collar workers 30 years ago might have been content to go to work and then come home and watch tv. The young professionals today want to be out and about doing things. This isn't a "play pen" issue for them, it is a quality of life issue.

I have heard the arguments of why Fort Wayne is a "great" town. Cheap housing, decent schools..., but the young professionals are looking for more than that. Those things might have been good for the workers 30 years ago but that isn't necessarily true today.

John, just try to see it from someone else's point of view besides your own.

Joe said...

All I have to say is, "darn right it's a playpen thing!!" A city's nightlife and entertainment options are huge as far as what draws young people to cities. You are right Scott, maybe this wasn't the case 40 or 50 years ago when people were getting married in the early 20's and starting families. But now many people are waiting til their 30's to get married and have kids, trying to get their careers in order first. And until then they want to live it up of course!

Has anyone ever been to Wrigleyville, or the Broadripple in Indy, or the French Quarter on a weekend night? What a lively, exciting atmosphere. Fort Wayne has nobody downtown after 8pm, except as John correctly pointed out "the library is open til 8:50". Yeah!! The library, woohooo!! Sorry about the Embassy theatre too John, but the vast majority of the shows going on there do not appeal to the younger crowd at all!

John B. Kalb said...

Joe - I assume by Wrigleyville you mean the ballpark on Chicago's north end, and by Broadripple you are referring to the area in north-east Indianapolis, plus by French Quarter you mean the area in the higher elevation of New Orleans. If these are correct - NOT ONE OF THEM IS IN THE DOWNTOWN AREA OF THEIR RESPECTIVE CITY. So how does your comment have anything to do with the discussion on Harrison Square? John B. Kalb

Change Fort Wayne said...

So, John, you get upset if people make comparisons to larger cities and you get upset when people talk about an outskirt to the downtown (Wrigley).

Its more about the collection of attractions than anything else. Our downtown is the only place in the city that can provide walkable blocks. Chicago has its downtown and its Wrigleyville, its big enough to have them both. Plus, its walkable from one to the other.
Indy's big enough to have them both. If you could provide what people have in Broadripple (arts, entertainment, restaurants, and housing) up in Fort Wayne while giving people the ability to ditch their car, location wouldn't matter typographically from downtown. It just so happens that downtown already has the walkable grid infrastructure that the aforementioned locations do, plus it already has some housing, and jobs are located closely as well.

Joe said...

John, I was merely pointing out that these are scenes that Fort Wayne doesn't have. Doesn't have anything close to it.

If you want me to bring up downtown then fine...How about Rush Street or Division street in Downtown Chicago? How about Rathskeller, Howl at the Moon, or the Colts bar in downtown Indy (to name a few, there's many more)?

John B. Kalb said...

Joe - I have no idea how long you have lived in Fort Wayne. When the Columbia Street Landing was first occupied by "places to go" in the genre of what you are describing, many of us thought that it would be a place like the "old-town area" in St.Louis. But, for some reason, it just could not keep going - new owners every 5 or 6 months, fights that had to be broken up by our policemen, a feeling by some that not enough groups had a "designated driver" and as soon as they pulled away, they were subjected to a field sobriety test, or whatever led to desertion of the area and retreat to O'Sullivans, Pieres, et al in the outskirts. Maybe it is time to try this again - it is possible that the 20 & 30 year old citizens would have a different attitude about The Landing and other places downtown now than those of years past. I do not think that a downtown baseball park is going to be the catalyst - The appeal is way too narrow. Does anyone else think that something like was tried 20 years ago on The Landing would be a go in 2007? Or am I just "hopeing that's so". John B. Kalb