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Arts United buys 300 East Main
New facility anchors “arts campus” downtown
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
This story was supposed to start with announcement that Arts United had purchased the property at 300 Main Street — the “Fourth Wave” building.
But, at the last minute, they didn’t close the deal.
Not to worry, though. The purchase will happen; it’s just a few small details that need to be worked out. “Its nothing major, but the attorneys on both sides said ‘let’s postpone it a day’.” Says Jim Sparrow, Executive Director of Arts United. “Unfortunately, no one else was in town for the rest of the week…”
So, it’s going to happen, probably right before Thanksgiving. In fact, it may have already happened by the time you read this.
The basics: Arts United, the private, non-profit organization that helps support and fund — or partially fund — various art organizations in Fort Wayne, including the Fort Wayne Ballet, the Fort Wayne Philharmonic, the Fort Wayne Museum of Art, and many more, has been working towards buying the Fourth Wave building for about a year now, with the idea of consolidating some of its operations, and establishing a sort of campus or community of arts institutions downtown.
The project began a little over three years ago, when Sparrow says they started looking at long-term facility needs for the community and the different groups under the Arts United umbrella. “We went through a variety of conversations to determine what those priorities were, and saw an opportunity to try to invest in downtown for the benefit of the greater community and all the other initiatives going on in terms of redevelopment,” Sparrow explains.
New construction was deemed economically unfeasible, especially after the crash in 2008. But the 300 Main Street property was seen as an ideal opportunity if it ever became available. “We wanted a space that was close to what we’ve already invested in,” says Sparrow. “The FWMoA was expanding at the time, the Arts United Center is right next to it, and then there’s the History Center and the Hall Community Arts Center within the block, so we knew we had these anchors there.”
The property did become available, with talks starting about a year ago and quiet fundraising going on over the last six months.
Sparrow doesn‘t go into details yet — more of those will come out when the official announcement is made — but the plan is to move several organizations into the facility, starting with the Fort Wayne Ballet, a move he estimates will happen in the spring.
The benefits of the new building are threefold. For one, it will help in consolidating business services. “By having multiple groups in that building, we can begin to share IT, phone, mail… a lot of the ‘back office’ things that could then lead to things like marketing or finance management.”
Furthermore, the different groups could take advantage of what Sparrow calls “the benefit of close proximity.” “When you’re only 25 yards away from another arts organization, it’s easy for them to think about working together for day-to-day operations, programming, and other things,” explains Sparrow.
And finally, there’s the advantages of having many arts organizations in an arts district, and creating a walkable, campus environment. “There’s just greater accessibility for the public,” Sparrow says. “There’s more of a sense of an arts community, and people are more aware of everything that’s going on.”
“We’re really trying to establish the infrastructure for an arts community around sort of a central walking campus, so any development or investment we can make in this 10 block area is part of that plan,” Sparrow continues. “What we have now, these are the anchors; let’s build around them, and hope that private development also sees this as an opportunity as we build more density.”