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Whatever happened to…

5 FWR cover stories that just disappeared

By Michael Summers

michael_summers@fortwaynereader.com

Fort Wayne Reader

2010-05-10


The Fort Wayne Reader has covered a lot of stories over the years, and occasionally, we’ve devoted a cover story to something that seemed like it had the potential to be a big deal in the community, something people talked about, got people energized and inspired, augered “big things” to come…

And sometimes, things just don’t work out.

For this issue, we decided to take a look at five feature stories we’ve covered that just seemed to fizzle out or disappear. We’re not talking about the candidates that ran and didn’t win, the businesses that closed up, or the bands that never got around to making an album. We’re talking about the non-starters, the big ideas that looked like they could have been something more, but then just didn’t seem to go anywhere. They coulda been contenders, but their biggest moment was a cover story in the Fort Wayne Reader.

We come not to mock, sneer, or cast aspertions — well, maybe a little — but merely to find out what happened.

Fort Wayne to Indy in 28 Minutes

Way back in FWR #26 (February, 2005), we told you about Kimberly Pontius, then the Executive Director of Corporate & Continuing Education Services at Ivy Tech, who was associated with a loose network of people examining transportation issues in Fort Wayne — how we get in and out, as well as around, the city.

Pontius and this group were looking at three different possibilities. The first was the Indiana Small Aircraft Transportation Consortium, or SATS, essentially an “air taxi system” that utilizes light jets to transport people within a 500 mile radius of the point-of-origin. The second was an intermodal transportation system, a “people mover” that would connect the city’s education centers, major shopping and services areas, and the two large medical complexes Southwest and North. Finally, there was a high-speed magnetic levitation train that could possibly offer a 28-minute trip from Fort Wayne to Indianapolis.

Pontius, now the Executive Vice President of the Traverse Area Association of Realtors in Michigan, says this group wanted to see what the transportation mix might look like for the state if we moved away from an auto-centric society and got into more of a mass transit, public transit system. “A guy who was part of that was (then Fort Wayne mayor) Graham Richard,” Pontius recalls. “If you remember, he was a ‘big idea’ guy who enjoyed sitting around a table and ‘what if’ing.’ So we were looking at what existed out there in the way of technology that we could leverage in real time and make something happen.”

The element that seemed to really spark the imaginations of the people that heard about it was the “Transrapid,” the high-speed rail that could make the trip from Fort Wayne to Indianapolis in less than half-an-hour using magnetic levitation (maglev) technology. That technology was already a reality; German company ThyssenKrupp had implanted the system in parts of Europe and Asia. “If you could connect Indy to Fort Wayne using non-touch, non-contact technology like the maglev, what would that do to the dynamic in Indiana? If you could figure out how to make that trip faster than you could by automobile, does it make Fort Wayne, then, for lack of a better term, a bedroom community of Indianapolis?”

The project was more than just a “wouldn’t it be cool if” discussion; all three elements were extensively researched, especially the intermodal transportation system connecting various spots throughout the city. But turning such an ambitious idea into reality was always going to be a tall order, and not something those involved expected to happen anytime soon. Though the SATS project is still going strong, many of the people involved in those “what if” discussions have moved on, and perhaps some of the thunder of a maglev train has been stolen by the possibility that traditional rail service might be returning to Fort Wayne in the next several years. Pontius is quick to point out that maglev technology is quite a different beast. “Creating true high speed rail requires a new technology and a larger investment,” Pontius says. “What they’re talking about doing is using standard rail. 70 mph would be fast; 110 mph would be very fast. And yet there are systems in Spain and in Japan that can do 300 mph almost. What we talked about is a different technology. Magnetic levitation is not rail at all; it’s not even referred to as running on rail because it doesn’t touch anything. That’s where you’re able to achieve those kinds of speeds.”

While the economic crisis has turned our attention to more immediate concerns, Pontius believes the time when we are forced to think about these big transportation issues is going to come again soon. “What’s going to drive these technologies is the increasing cost of fuel,” he says. “We got a taste of it back in 2008 when gas hit $4/gallon. I think we’re going to get a little taste of it this summer. Unfortunately, people are going to wait for that to occur before they start to think about this stuff. They should be thinking about it now.”

Skyline Challenge

Back in 2005, FWR #36 talked to Allen County Recorder John McGauley (then the P.I.O. for the Allen County Commissioners office) about the Skyline Challenge, a ambitious plan to jump-start Fort Wayne’s final frontier: downtown development.

The Skyline Challenge would offer a $100,000 prize to the first new business in downtown Fort Wayne that remained open for two years.

Some basic rules: the business must be retail and/or entertainment-oriented (the whole object of the competition was to stimulate development in the area and bring people downtown); could not be an adult-oriented business; and must create and retain at least 20 jobs, a minimum of 70% full-time and a maximum of 30% part-time. The Skyline Challenge also stipulated store hours: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Saturday. “We need to try to break out of the mode of ‘roll up the sidewalks at 5 o’clock and go home,’” McGauley told us in August, 2005.

The Skyline Challenge had its inspiration in something far loftier than downtown development — the 2005 X-Prize competition, which offered $10 million to the first team that launched a piloted, privately-funded spaceship, able to carry three people, to 100 kilometers (62.5 miles), and return safely to Earth. McGauley followed the competition, and to him it proved something: there’s no better way to break the government “monopoly” on space flight than to throw a big prize out there. Sticking with the X-Prize model, the prize money for the Skyline Challenge would come from the private sector, which McGauley hoped would cut through the kind of red tape that might come from a government sponsored project.

Though a few business owners we heard from said 20 jobs and a minimum of 70% full-time employees sounded like a tall order, there were a lot of people excited about the idea, and McGauley was moving forward, drawing up legal papers and raising prize money.

What happened? “It’s easy,” McGauley says. “Reality caught up with the concept. Stuff started happening downtown. We started talking about what became Parkview Field and the condo retail development. Really, it’s that simple, a lot of things started happening.”

Though Parkview Field/Harrison Square was not a reality in 2005 and wouldn’t get the official green light for over a year yet, the idea was enough to get people to start looking at downtown, according to McGauley. “The idea all along was to use the prize as incentive to spur development that basically came on its own,” McGauley continues. “The City obviously incentivized certain pieces of the Parkview Field prospect and other people started coming downtown on their own. I guess that’s the more organic way to do it. People coming down of their own initiative, with their own resources. I’m frankly not that upset that we didn’t have to do it. It happened without us, and that’s the goal.”

McGauley still thinks that an X-Prize type competition is a great idea, and would like to see someone else take the concept and do something with it. Also, he says that back in 2005, he was actually contacted by the X-Prize organizers, who had read the FWR article. “They said ‘whatever we can do to help…’ They were talking about applying the concept to other endeavors. ‘Endeavors that benefit humanity’, I think they were calling it. It probably went a little beyond downtown development…”

(Just as a side note: FWR actually did a story about the X-Prize in issue #14 back in 2004. Why? What does The X-Prize have to do with Fort Wayne? Err… nothing. We didn’t know what we were doing then. But we were able to get interviews with a lot of the leading teams).

Fort Wayne Reader presents Live On Stage

It seemed like a good idea. Heck, it seemed like a great idea — showcase the area’s best original bands in a television show, film it at one of Fort Wayne’s best-equipped venues for audio/video production, and even throw in an interview with the artists. A sort of Fort Wayne version of Nashville City Limits, giving viewers a taste of the city’s diverse original music scene and letting them actually hear the music without the usual distractions of going to a club.

But the road to mediocrity is paved with good intentions.

Fort Wayne Reader presents Live on Stage was a joint production of the Fort Wayne Reader, Diversity Media Group (publisher of INK), and the Fort Wayne Media Group. It was recorded at Come2Go ministries downtown on Baker Street, a venue that’s particularly friendly for recording audio/video projects — the whole facility is set up for four cameras, boasts a high-quality control room, and also features a spacious stage. “The sound system at C2G is unparalleled,” says Sankofa, who appeared on an early episode. “I have yet to play another venue whose combination of soundman and technology allows me to perform without fatiguing my voice — no mean feat, considering I have no guitar soloists to kill time while I recover.”

We had several hosts at the beginning, but eventually narrowed it down to Sean Smith, FWR’s music columnist back then, and singer Fatima Washington. The first episode featured The Legendary Train Hoppers. Though there were some issues with the format, the sound quality and video was good, and in general seemed to bode well for the rest of the series. We started making plans. Big plans…

Maybe we should have taken the hint when the second episode, featuring Left Lane Cruiser, didn’t air due to a mix-up at WISE 33 and was pushed back a week. But it would turn out that scheduling issues were the least of our worries. The bands and artists were great — professional, patient, easy to work with. Good folks like John Hartman and Joel Faurote lent their time and talents, and we even got a sponsor.

Yet even as Sean and Fatima became more comfortable on camera and the recording sessions got a little smoother, there always seemed to be something wrong with the production. And it always seemed to be a different problem than the previous problem. These went from mis-spelled words to the camera being focused on the bass player’s feet as the guitarist was playing a solo. It was like playing a game of whack-a-mole: no sooner had one problem been whacked then another one popped up… and another… and then the first problem would pop up again…

Worse yet, the sound could be pretty erratic from episode to episode. “I can only describe (the aired episode) as an atrocious sound mix,” recalls one guest. “I could barely hear guitar and I know it was loud enough on stage.”

The Fort Wayne Media Group, the now-defunct company that we hired to do the production, would sort of shrug and tell us that these things happen. Which is true: A/V production can be tricky, but that’s usually why people hire professionals to do that sort of work, and those professionals can usually figure out how to prevent those mistakes from happening again. A dozen or so episodes in, we were still encountering some of the same problems.

Things came to a head when, well into the second season, a show aired that… well, frankly should not have (“I did not appreciate it,” the artist told us later). Voices were raised, the possibility of legal action was broached, and the Fort Wayne Media Group promised to do better.

Around about that time, we started hearing that previous guests would not be interested in making another appearance.

There were other things we weren’t happy with. The overall look seemed dated and staid. “A couple hand held cameras in the bands' practice space or other intimate location would be much more compelling,” says a viewer.

So, to make a long story short, we weren’t really thrilled about moving ahead with a third season as things stood. Fort Wayne Media Group went to Come2Go, and the next thing we knew, someone was recording a new episode of Live On Stage without us.

We think it’s still on. We have no idea who’s paying for it, and we have no idea what it looks like. Does it still have the state-of-the-art special effects circa 1986? Or is it absolutely brilliant now that someone is using their own money to produce it? Like I said, we don’t know.

Room for Dreams

In January of 2007, a host of local organizations and businesses — including the Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Fort Wayne/Allen County Economic Development Alliance — rolled out the result of a branding initiative that had been over a year in the making, cost over $70,000, and involved thousands of hours of interviews, surveys, and data collection. North Star Destinations, a Memphis, TN firm that specializes in community branding, did the research and developed the brand, while local marketing firm LaBov gave it the final polish.

The result was “Room for Dreams” and its attendant logo, an image of Indiana with a starburst in the Fort Wayne area, along with three “waves” underneath representing the river. Rolled out to great fanfare, the brand that many hoped would help sell Fort Wayne to the rest of the world didn’t really seem to catch on. In fact, while kicking around the ideas for this story, “Room for Dreams” (which we covered in FWR #70) was one of the first suggestions that came up. A completely informal and unscientific survey revealed that many people seemed to think it had been abandoned.

But according to Dan O’Connell at the Fort Wayne Convention & Visitor’s Bureau, “Room for Dreams” is still very much in play. Indeed, the CVB uses it quite a lot. “We’re probably the entity that does most of the outreach and image building for the community, so we use it in our websites, in our meeting planner’s guides, and we often use if in our printed communications like our visitor’s guide,” he says. “It is still of value in that we developed it in concert with the City, County and economic development arms.”

He says the City has used it in some of its communications, and the swoosh logo with Fort Wayne depicted an outline of the state can be seen on such things as the downtown information kiosks. “It probably was not universally accepted by some of the other entities — the Chamber of Commerce, the DID, the Economic Development Alliance — because they felt it certainly served its role but it didn’t convey their mission or their organization,” O’Connell says. “They have their own logos.”

“The tagline is what I would say didn’t enamor people to the branding approach,” he adds. “‘Room for Dreams’ is more of an esoteric, cerebral message.”

Part of the problem behind the brand’s lukewarm reception might have been that people didn’t realize it was always intended as outreach, Fort Wayne’s external brand and logo to the outside world. O’Connell thinks that the research North Star Destinations conducted was the most valuable part of the project. “They gave us a lot of perceptions that people had of Fort Wayne who are not from Fort Wayne, and that’s more valuable to those of us who are trying to market to those people,” he explains. “The research company was very helpful in targeting us towards what they call in the marketing world ‘clusters’. Identifying clusters of people who most likely be interested in visitation here.”

Still, as far as the logo and slogan goes… “We thought we had a solid double, but didn’t hit a homerun with it,” says O’Connell. “We always said we would let this brand run for 3 – 5 years and then take another evaluation. Everybody takes a new look, looks at colors, positioning, and it should be done about 3 – 5 years.”


Rachel Grubb

Just last December, in FWR #139, we ran an interview with Rachel Grubb, an Auburn resident who intended to take on Mark Souder and become the Republican candidate for Indiana’s 3rd Congressional District. The interview was conducted by Lee Miles with additional reporting by Your Humble.

A self-described “blue collar mom” with very little political experience, Grubb seemed to personify a lot of that “conservative populist fervor” we hear a lot about these days: conservatives who not only have it against the current administration (obviously) but think most conservative incumbents are just not conservative enough, overspending and overreaching. “Working class, middle class people in the 3rd district are looking at these politicians that are making legislation and dictating policy that have no idea what’s going on in the 3rd district, or any other district for that matter,” she told us. “People are really interested in someone that came from that district, who know it, who are willing to stay in the district to figure out how we can better this whole area.”

In case you haven’t figured it out by now, Rachel Grubb could probably have been called “the tea party candidate.” And Grubb probably wouldn’t have objected to that description too much. She believed in grassroots campaigning, strict adherence to the Constitution, and a “hands off” approach to governing. She was mad as hell, and wasn’t going to take it anymore (though she was very nice to us).

We received a fair amount of cranky e-mails about our interview, though only one respondent had the courage to agree to be printed.

Frankly, Grubb was always going to be a long shot to beat Souder, but we thought it would be an interesting long shot, and an interesting campaign (I’m trying to think of a somewhat recent local political race where the outsider candidate went on to defeat the seeming favorite and win the party’s ticket… but I just can’t).

But the primaries are over now, and if you didn’t see Grubb’s name on the ticket… well, that’s because it wasn’t. After campaigning early on and surviving a “challenge” that someone filed with the election board, Grubb seemed to disappear, and in the end neglected to file. Why? We don’t know. Where is she? We don’t know. As they say, at press time we have received no responses to our calls and e-mails. Lee Miles, who conducted the original interview, says his own attempts to contact Grubb have gone unanswered.

Andy Downs of the Mike Down Center for Indiana Politics doesn’t know Rachel Grubb, but met her when he was a member of the Allen County Election Board. His impression: she seemed very serious about running. But for many candidates, the reality of campaigning, especially in an area the size of the 3rd district, can be overwhelming. “It’s an enormous task,” Downs says. “It can’t be something you just sort of do on weekends; it’s a full-time job. The amount of work you have to do, the number of people you have to meet in order to make an impression… then there’s the question of raising money… It’s just huge.”

Once again, we don’t know why Grubb chose not to file, but the above seems like as good a reason as any.

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