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Transformation

By Jim Sack

Fort Wayne Reader

2013-01-17


Remember that man in a flack jacket standing in a embattled market in Bagdhad a few years ago, helicopter gunships providing cover overhead and watchful marines on all sides? He is now our governor, Mike Pence, and speaking to a reporter that day in Bagdhad he did wonders for Indiana tourism by comparing that war-torn bazaar to country markets in small town Indiana. Of course, he was just sucking up to President Bush, but it made us wince.

Now, he has done the equivalent for job creation in Indiana by appointing young Eric Doden as the head of the Indiana Economic Development Corporation. Mr. Doden, you may remember, ran for mayor of Fort Wayne a few years ago principally on the strength of having watched Fort Wayne TV and later having rented an apartment on the far north side, close to his real home in Butler where the family wealth was amassed in the steel industry by his entrepreneurial father.

The appointment speaks volumes about Pence’s plans for Indiana. First, Eric is a very likable young man. But, he has no more business leading job creation in Indiana than he did running for mayor of Fort Wayne. One would hope that such a lofty position would be directed to someone with a substantial track record. One might hope that the appointee would have built a significant business or two, had some academic credentials, or would have pulled self up by the boot-straps. Eric has none of those credentials. Mr. Doden’s wealth was created by his father. One can only guess the appointment is a payback for Doden Family campaign contributions or pay forward for future support.
Or, it signifies that Governor Pence doesn’t care much about job creation in Indiana, rather capital formation. Perhaps Pence is continuing the Daniels’ Administration PR policy of taking loud credit for promised jobs that never quite materialized. Perhaps it is all three: payback, vacuous PR and disdain for workers in favor of the managerial class.

Secondly, we have been asked to oppose the proposed transfer of the statue of Mad Anthony from Freimann Square to the Court House Green. We had already taken a position and that has not changed. The Court House Green is a waste of money and space. Where an open plaza is appropriate for markets and cafes, the “green” is useless for few other than a mowing crew. The Allen County Court House is the most impressive building, bar none, in northern Indiana. Center Mad Anthony on the building, facing Clinton, lift him onto a on a 12 foot plinth, surrounded him with lights and a circular pool. Certainly, it will cost a chunk of money, but in the years to come it will be the gathering place, the number one photo stop in Fort Wayne and a source of great pride for us all. So, as a wise councilman said, in tough economic times the move should be funded with gifts, not tax dollars. But, it would be transformational…

Speaking of transformational, the Henry Administration has a wonderful opportunity in the “person” of the massive and inspiring steam engine 765. The people who resurrected the legacy engine, who have made it again into a stunning Iron Horse, are willing to put it to work for Fort Wayne. They have proposed using the North River property, the old Omnisource space, as a home for the huge memorial to Fort Wayne’s grand transportation history. We were once IT when it came to the rails, to steam engines, to the manufacture of grand rail cars and rail commerce. Not to take advantage of 765 and put her back to work for our city would be a shame and a missed opportunity of the first degree. The Legacy process talked of transformative; this is it! Fire her up, build an interactive, family friendly center around her and schedule 765 to regularly carry fun lovers and history buffs to Chicago or wherever the tracks lead. Any developer involved in the North River Project, whether from Baltimore or Butler, should jump at the offer.
And the Old Fort. It is terribly under utilized, not unlike Mad Anthony’s statue. At least one council member would have it turned into so much firewood to make way for river front development. Well, there is middle ground. Granted, the fort is in a bad location. Invest in the future – move it. That ground is very valuable for the sort of development that would compliment downtown Fort Wayne, use it for shops or cafes or promenades, but reuse the Fort. Whenever informed friends from Europe visit here the first thing they want to see is the Fort. Europeans are fascinated with the Fort like we admire Carcassonne, Windsor, and the Wartburg. We have neglected the Fort for a couple decades, good people have saved it, preserved it; it is time to make it, again, a tourist destination, but where?

Additionally, there is a plan afoot by the city to redevelop the block between just west of the ball park with brownstones. Given that a hundred or so new residential units are soon coming on line downtown it begs the question whether more housing now might be too much too soon. Instead, leaders in West Central have long begged the city to facilitate downtown shopping, especially for the basics of life, food, medicine and sundries.
Odds and ends. Happily, Fort Wayne is debating how to revitalize our city, not how to save our city as has often been the case since Harvester left. We are truly in a transformational era.

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©2006 Fort Wayne Reader. All rights Reserved.