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The Baker Street-Fairfield Corridor
Pumping new life into a downtown artery
By Jim Mount
Fort Wayne Reader
Listening to Jerry and Linda Vandeveer conjures visions of the kind of ideal neighbors you’d want living down the street from you — not only residents but business owners, committed to the area and looking for the best way to revitalize their neighborhood, and at the same time provide an attractive inlet to a flourishing downtown Fort Wayne.
Welcome to the Baker/Fairfield Improvement District. The Vandeveers have called the Baker/Fairfield corridor home for the past 40 years; they know the work it takes not only to keep a business open and profitable, but also how to live in and keep that business open in an area that hasn't always been as welcoming.
Vandeveer says they have a nice neighborhood, but that hasn't always been the case.
“We've been here forty years, started in 1973,” Jerry Vandeveer says of The Wood Shack, a business he and his wife Linda run dealing in salvage parts for homes. “We live here in the neighborhood, which used to be a pretty bad neighborhood back in 2000.”
The biggest obstacle the Vandeveers faced in turning around their neighborhood were the drug houses and for the most part. With an alliance with the Fort Wayne Police Department, the Vandeveers succeeded in cleaning up the neighborhood of the destructive elements. “We've eliminated the drug houses, but it's never a done and finished thing,” says Jerry Vandeveer. “We've got to be constantly on the alert, constantly working with the police department.”
The police memorial across the street from their shop is a “thank you” to the police department for their help. Cleaning out the neighborhood paved the way for what the Vandeveers envisioned the neighborhood to be — a more welcoming route into downtown as a key to contributing to a more prosperous and thriving city. But Jerry VandaVeer says for a long time in 2000, he and his wife made numerous attempts to get help from the police department; it wasn't until the police sent a pair of officers to the area that they got the full scope of what the Vandeveers were dealing with.
“When they saw it first hand, the whole thing changed,” Vandeveer says. “Marty Bender assigned 10 police officers and did nothing but beat this neighborhood, and man-oh-man what a difference. (They) shook it up, turned it upside down.”
What the Vandeveers have in mind is tying the Fairfield/Baker corridor into other local districts to providing strong arteries that feed into downtown. “Our idea was to make peoples trips into work downtown more pleasurable,” explains Vandeveer. “In the summertime, we always have flowers out here. People would stop and say ‘hey that looks good’ and that made us want to do a little more. Pretty soon we started getting the whole block done.”
Linda Vandeveer says it helps their neighborhood thrive. “Just make it look good, when you drive by here you feel at ease, you don't feel like you have to dodge and hide coming through. You want people to realize this is Fort Wayne and we're part of Fort Wayne, and when you drive by here, you're made to feel welcome, you don't have to be afraid.”
About the businesses in the Baker Street/Fairfield area forming the corridor, Jerry says it came to a point where they had to take action on their own, hence the formation of the Baker Fairfield Improvement District: “We thought we were apart of the Downtown Improvement District because we were a business right within that area, but last year we found out that we weren't.” Vandeveer explains, “DID still allowed us to participate in the trolley tours they have for the businesses downtown, but we didn't get any of their advertising.”
Businesses within the DID pay a percentage of their taxes to the DID. “They (the DID) weren't taking any money from us,” says Vandeveer. “We offered but they wouldn't take it so consequently they never ran any advertising for us. That's when we decided to start the Baker/Fairfield Improvement District. We have houses on Fairfield and three on Baker, but limiting it to just Fairfield and Baker seems just a little narrow-minded. We thought ‘why don't we just open it up for anybody that works on their house and make it just a little nicer for somebody?’”
With talk of rail returning to Fort Wayne and the exploding popularity of nearby Parkview Field, Vandeveer sees a great future for the corridor. He points out that the remodeling and reopening of the Baker street bus station was done with the adjoining elevated railroad track in mind, “Rail coming back to downtown is nothing but a win win win all the way around,” he says. “They did all the preliminary work with the intention that it might happen. All the banking for the elevation has been reinforced so if they do decide to bring something in, a train station could go in there with no problem at all, right next to the Citilink station.”
With the formation of the Baker-Fairfield Improvement just a few weeks old, Vandeveer says part of what will help it be successful is their Facebook page where they will be featuring businesses and homes on the improvement to show the growth and vitality of the corridor.
“We're changing every day, just getting a little bigger and little bigger and it just opens it up for people. Fairfield, once its a two way — and by the end of the year, it's going to be a two way — will tie into the Wells Corridor, Wells ties into Lima Road which ties into route 3. So in a years time, you will be able to leave Kendallville and get on route 3 and basically get on the Baker-Fairfield corridor.”
He continues: “As it is, this corridor, and the other corridors in Fort Wayne (Broadway, Fairfield, Calhoun and Wells Street) are the arteries of the city. We're the ones that pump the blood into the heart of Fort Wayne and the heart of Fort Wayne is downtown.”
The Vandeveers overall philosophy in starting the District is simple; Neighbors helping neighbors in making the city a more attractive and thriving home. “We try to help people when we can,” Vandeveer says, “ and we just try to make our city just a little bit nicer and every week. That's what you gotta do.”
You can find out more about the Baker-Fairfield Improvement District by visiting their Facebook page.