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Transform Tourism

By Jim Sack

Fort Wayne Reader

2014-05-06


Tourism is boon for most towns and Fort Wayne should be no different. The benefits are myriad from providing a source of new income, new jobs, beautification for residents, and creating a marketable image. In short, an attractive town is better than the opposite. It only makes sense.

But, not only we have turned our backs on sizeable parts of our more interesting history, but there are those who would like to destroy at least one major tourism resource.
Attractions provide income. When someone from Cleveland or Cincinnati attends a Tin Caps game, visits the zoo or dines at Germanfest they spend “new” dollars in Fort Wayne. Those dollars then ripple many times through the local economy from your hands to mine to another’s buying things along the way before leaving town in exchanged for finished goods from Chicago, China or Germany. Tourism creates new wealth.

So, as local economic development organizations coalesce into Greater Fort Wayne Inc., they should include the Visitor’s Bureau to refine and strengthen our tourism effort.
Over the lengthy Legacy process representatives of the mayor’s office correctly said that one goal of spending would be to provide amenities that Lincoln or Franklin Electric could use to close recruiting deals with creative Millenials. Big local companies covet the “creative class” in order to compete with other enterprises around the world; sometimes a community’s amenities tip the scale when other factors are comparable.

But, moreover, attractions benefit us natives in quality of life and in keeping our brightest children here to renew our community.

Parkview Field is a superb additional to our tourism allure. It is the sort of tourism/urban-playground anchor that is reinvigorating the downtown. The Zoo is a major local attraction, so is the library’s genealogy department, as was Glenbrook.

That’s about it when it comes to major attractions.

Ah, and there is Historic Fort Wayne, the symbol of our history and the most underachieving or all our attractions. When was the last time you took visitors there, or your family, or stopped by to admire and reflect? 1990? My European friends still mention the fort as one of their foremost interests. Once it was in tour books, an active and dynamic attraction. Now, a few community leaders want to tear it down to make way for some vague idea of development.

And there is Carol Lombard, and the first professional baseball game, our history of inventions, and our achievements as a transportation center from the portage to GM. What are we doing to leverage those assets? 765?

Think of the Confluence, the raison d’etre of the community; is there any great monument there, any broad Potemin Steps reaching to the water’s edge to glorify the location? Nope. In fact, there is barely access to the site. Most of the year the area in front of the Water Filtration Plant is overgrown with scrub. There is no cute café, no museum dedicated to the history of water purification nor a visitor center to tell the story of our most significant natural feature. Where is the large point-of-interest map above those sweeping steps that point to where the American fort stood, or where Harmer was defeated (over and over) by Little Turtle or where Kekionga sprawled. Nothing.

In fact, it is really worse than nothing- the bridge to Lakeside masks the Confluence and the “blast-wall” bridge next to the Gas House all but obliterates the view. Approaching along St. Joe River Boulevard the once lovely vista is now just gray concrete wall. It is, however, “textured” to add beauty! At least one city councilman, Tom Smith, wants to transform the Baghdad-like Clinton Street Bridge into something beautiful and useful with wide sidewalks and ornamental lighting. Don’t walking it now. The current iteration is nothing short of aesthetic sabotage and a barrier to foot or bike passage. Smith’s plan would be a superb use of Legacy funds.

What about the site of the first French fort in the area? Where are the grand plaques, informational display and monuments that would make the site worthy of a visit. What about Rudisill’s mill near North Side High School that was one of the earliest and most important “economic development” tools for the city; how about a the Golden Portage trail with markers, paths and reenactments. What about Kekionga? What about 765?

And, what about a restaurant in Foster Park to allow heart-walkers. flower-lovers, Greenway riders and strolling families a place for coffee and cake, or a beer and burger? It is the norm in Europe, why not Fort Wayne? Have we forgotten the history of the parks, of Kessler, or the City Beautification movement and our revolutionary Park and Boulevard system that could be explained there?

A good tourism plan makes a community more attractive to residents, visitors and businesses, alike, and makes our city a place where creative people want to live and work. A superior tourism effort brings wealth. Superior amenities are fundamental to economic development.

Fort Wayne tourism leaders have long and successfully focused on bringing conventions to town. Now, its time to push the extra-mural attractions and amenities that lure back those conventioneers with their families or prompt them to set up shop here. It is time to “transform” our tourism infrastructure. The investment dollars are there. The return would be broad and substantial, more so than subsidizing airlines to carry people away from Fort Wayne.

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