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Time to move

Legacy proposals and Fort Wayne’s next step

By Jim Sack

Fort Wayne Reader

2012-07-19


Half-way.

That is about where we are in the Legacy time line.

Last week the preliminary proposals from the four Legacy task force committees were revealed. They were a step forward in a process that began early in 2011 as an invitation to the public to conjure proposals that would be transformative, would leverage many more investment dollars, would provide catalytic impetus for additional development, and would benefit us all.

Many of the proposals seem a rehash of the Vision 2020 Report, the Blue Print and Blue Print Plus. I guess we should have expected as much. Credit to Mayor Henry for trying to involve the public and for offering a process by which the citizenry could toss out its feelings on how to transform the city. But, it was an insiders´ game.

Around a thousand proposals were offered by we rank and file. They ranged from a new motorsports complex to an amorphous call to honor Carol Lombard. Funds were sought to redevelop the Parkview campus on Randallia and to subsidize airlines so they might fly daily, directly to Washington, DC.

The old saw that no idea is a bad idea was shortly shown the door. Leaders increasingly began to ask who would ¨champion¨ an idea — did an idea come with a plan as well as the organizational strength and funding to fulfill a given proposal? Very, very few did. Institutional ideas came in first.

The task force then reoriented thinking into three general categories: downtown and the rivers, economic development, and youth development. The few surviving ideas from the 1,000 were then slotted under one heading or another.

Last week rough drafts were leaked. Staff then explained they were reworking the collection for the mayor´s submission to council members for their discussion and vote.

Council will approve this pivotal step, contracts will be written and we will start investing $29 million or so of our Legacy. That still leaves plenty in the kitty, over $45 million, for the ¨stash-it-in-the-mattress-crowd¨ who would prefer to watch inflation eat away at the principle like some creeping black mold. Hopefully, more projects will be funded, instead.

So, now the next phase commences.

Under the rubric of ¨shovel ready¨ is the University of St. Francis proposal to turn the Scottish Rite and Chamber of Commerce buildings into a central campus. Development of the river ¨front¨ will look very, very ably led by councilman John Shoaff. The development of downtown will soon have more money to spend than Scrooge McDuck.

Downtown revivalists propose another few millions to supplement what the Downtown Development Trust, the Redevelopment Commission and other entities have to spend. That sounds truly catalytic, if it is truly carefully spent. Signage for downtown ¨gateways¨ has been ready to leap off the drawing board for years, once the railroads get onboard.

These proposals are not ground breaking. Most are adaptations of previous proposals resubmitted by Legacy process leaders and their institutions who are veterans of previous task forces, focus groups and study teams. The leadership, for example, of Cheri and Mark Becker who escorted Fort Wayne leader entourages to a variety of self-revitalizing cities, such as Providence, Chattanooga and Greenville, South Carolina, gives spirit to many of the funding proposals.

The Blue Print and Blue Print Plus projects launched by Mayor Graham Richard encouraged optimism and the expectation of change, not to mention tossing out a few score specific improvements that might be made to Downtown. Vision 2020 has also been central to the process. Much of what was proposed in these plans or brought home as souvenirs from the trips has become a part of Fort Wayne whiles others wait their time and would further stimulate downtown.

In fact, the Legacy Fund is now all about Downtown. The community consensus is that a vibrant downtown is fundamental to a higher quality of life and that will, in turn, bring progressive companies to Fort Wayne to offer the same sort of new economy jobs that Harvester and Magnavox did in the 1920s.
F
ort Wayne is undergoing a renaissance. The new library, the ball park, the Harrison, the new hotel, the parking garage, the Arts United Campus and transformation of the old Wolf and Dessauer to Citizen´s Square, and the City County Building into the Rousseau Center all bear witness. The pace of improvement is now quickening.

About one hundred years ago Fort Wayne went through a transformation. That was when our sterling Park Department was established as a way of beautifying Fort Wayne and attract new, cutting edge businesses. Harvester and Magnavox, among others came. David Foster was the leader of the local effort which was based on the city beautiful movement then sweeping America. Fort Wayne went farther than most cities, but still came up short. Visionary Foster ran into good old Fort Wayne bullheaded obstinacy. One of the world´s truly great urban planners, George Kessler, presented plans to make Fort Wayne a model for the country, but council, instead, voted to shelve his plans. Happily, over the years Kessler Plan components, such as Rudisill Boulevard, Foster Park, Headwaters Park, McMillan Park and the Greenway System have been built.

Council now has the chance to continue the renaissance that has begun by supporting, or improving upon the plans offered and spending some of our inheritance to beautify and better our city. As with 1912, the pieces are all in place, and this time council seems ready to lead, not obstruct. From the remaining $45 million they should offer the mayor and his planning department the chance to build more of the Blue Print Plus amenities that tight budgets have so far shelved.

Foster, Rudisill, Hanna and the others who built Fort Wayne would be proud of the work Mayor´s Richard and Henry, as well as their planners and civic leaders such as Cheri Becker, Irene Walters, Dan Carmody, Bill Brown, Scott Glaze and many others, have presented for our consideration.

Time for this generation to move. Foster would be proud.

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