Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Square Both Best And Worst For 07

Best & Worst of 2007
Link (FWR)

Fort Wayne Reader has a list of the "Best & Worst of 2007" that includes the recent elections and local politics, the Fort Wayne blogosphere, media, the music scene, and downtown.

In fact, downtown is mentioned a few times, with Harrison Square making both the Best and Worst list and downtown in general making the Best list.


Harrison Square

The poll put out by the Citizens for Anything That Might Make Downtown Fort Wayne Interesting says 97.3% of the population is for Harrison Square. The poll put out by Citizens Who Fear and Hate Change says 97.4% of the population is against it. Whatever, it’s going forward now, and the Citizens Who For God’s Sake Can’t Take Another Decades’ Worth of Proposals and Exploratory Committees is quite relieved to hear it. Seriously, even someone who has never seen a baseball game they couldn’t have napped through must have been tempted to just grab a shovel and start the project themselves if that’s what it takes.

Even though we’ve heard “baseball won’t get me downtown,” plenty of people go to those Wizards games and it’s a waste to have them just sitting in their cars out by Memorial Coliseum after a game when they could be walking around and spending money. But the baseball stadium is only a small part of Harrison Square. As we’ve all been told, it will include retail, condos, and a brand new hotel. We’re also told it won’t raise property taxes, and that the package was an offer the city basically couldn’t refuse. Indeed, the amount of outside investment in the project is remarkable.

We were lukewarm on the project, but it’s going forward. Finally. Here’s hoping it “densifies” downtown, brings lots of pedestrian traffic, spurs a thriving retail area, boosts local restaurants and helps to connect all the attractions already downtown, encourages people to move to the city, and turns Fort Wayne into a major tourist destination. Two cheers for Harrison Square.


Harrison Square

Soon after the Harrison Square groundbreaking, city planners and city officials were quick to assure the public that downtown Fort Wayne wouldn’t become saturated with the same sort of national chains you can find in any city, or the suburbs of this one (the chain mentioned by name was Applebee’s, which seemed to have replaced the Olive Garden as cultural shorthand for all that is boring and bland in restaurant chains). And talk to any young proponent of the project and they’ll tell you their hopes that Harrison Square will help give downtown a “college town” flavor — more venues for bands, interesting retail, a variety of entertainment options.

The former will happen; the latter won’t. Downtown Fort Wayne will turn into a miniature version of downtown Indianapolis. There will be chain restaurants and chain stores and chain retail, but without a Broad Ripple or a Slippery Noodle or a Vogue in sight. What Fort Wayne really wants is the same stuff we see in other cities, whether it’s a Starbucks or a Rock Bottom Brewery. To us, it’s validation. It means we’re a real city, just like the others. Which isn’t the worst thing, I suppose. In fact, it’s sort of the way these things go. But still… Well, here’s hoping we’re totally wrong, and that the establishments downtown that have kept the area from becoming a complete ghost town thrive under the shadow of Harrison Square."



Ironically, 2007 gave Harrison Square haters cause to point at downtown and say “Look! We don’t need it! There are people downtown anyway!”

They were right; it seemed people did come downtown in 2007. Of course, a fairly constant stream of festivals during the summer ensures there’s usually some people downtown… at least on the weekends… in Headwaters Park. But this year the renewed focus on downtown revitalization seemed to bring out the crowds.

A lot of credit goes to the Downtown Improvement District, who worked hard to produce a string of fun events in all kinds of weather — the winter HolidayFests, the Beach Blast, Downtown Fright Night, the Freimann Family Thursdays…

Running down the list of well-attended events is only part of the story. What’s especially encouraging is that the D.I.D. was able to bring so many downtown organizations, businesses, and institutions together to lend their time and resources toward making the events a success.

But it didn’t stop with the D.I.D. Anyone visiting the corner of Calhoun and West Wayne this summer during the work week might have thought the area had finally become that bustling pedestrian environment we all seem to want. That block of West Wayne and Calhoun with Cindy’s Diner, J.K. O’Donnell’s, Toscani’s Pizzeria, Double Dragon, Loaf and Ladle, Pint and Slice, and the Dash-In seemed to do brisk business during summer lunch hours.

And of course, let’s not forget the new library, which suddenly became a cool place to hang out. We might actually start readin’ books n’ stuff.

The lesson for this encouraging year: give people something to do or places to go downtown, and people will come downtown. What a concept.

D.I.D. director Dan Carmody recently left for Detroit after two years on the job; here’s hoping whoever takes his place continues what the D.I.D. started here. And here’s hoping those downtown establishments keep growing."