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Even visionaries fail sometimes
By Jim Sack
Fort Wayne Reader
Bill Bean should be commended even in failure. He dreamt big, offered some tantalizing ideas for the big dig downtown but in the end things just didn’t work out. That’s not unusual in business where just as many, if not more, deals go south than rise in the air. The big difference is that this deal was very, very public with smily announcements, the fanfare of trumpets, and glowing expectations announced to council. That’s because the deal became mixed with politics and everybody involved wanted the deal to work so, so badly.
Mr. Bean has been a success and a great asset to the community in his many, many mostly successful deals and developments. The big-dig tower was to be his signature piece in the city. Mayor Henry wanted the deal to work so that the momentum he has tirelessly created in central city renaissance would not just continue, but develop a dynamic of its own that would no longer need as much public stimulus. They both wanted to bring the rapidly growing Ash Brokerage to a downtown location for all the right reasons.
Sadly, not all the pieces were in place and the deal proved too much for Mr. Bean. Sadly, Mayor Henry rushed the announcement before the most significant pieces were all in place.
Commend them both for trying hard to make this a better place. But the problem comes when public money is at stake. Had this been a deal between two business folk it might not have generated a story in the local newspapers, but it was a high profile, high stakes, publicly financed project in the middle of Fort Wayne that had a dozen cooks and everybody was watching because the principles wanted the attention.
Mr. Bean will move on to other big deals, that is his nature and he is a skilled businessman. Mayor Tom says that a slew (three or four) of major developers have already shown interest to take over the project. He added, “Fort Wayne redevelopment is on the map.”
But, one would think that after the financing problems surrounding the ballpark that the administration would have not been so hasty.
Any great city rests on a vibrant center. Downtown Fort Wayne had been dying slowly since the 60s as building after building came down and store after store, office after office moved to the sprawl of malls and plazas. Mayors since Win Moses and Paul Helmke have tried to reverse the trend with some success until Graham Richard hit a home run with the ballpark complex and Tom Henry carried that and a dozen more projects forward. Now, according to the mayor, redevelopment has momentum, and he might have added is solely because people like Bean and Henry, Moses and others are willing to take risks to make things happen.
It is with that in mind I relate a chat with a citizen after the first, very first meeting of the new Legacy Committee, the amalgam of citizen and official to establish the ground rules and manage the investment of tens of millions of Legacy dollars in our future. He complained on the way out of the meeting that it was just like government “not to get anything done. It was a stupid comment.
It was the first meeting, there were more citizens at the table than officials and it was an open meeting with plenty of citizens and reporters there to witness the discussion. Sure, there will be a lot of behind closed-door attempts, but for the most part it is open, wide open.
Check around the world, where will you find a city with such a public fund? Then, where will you find a city where the process is so very, very open. Hardly anywhere, if anywhere!
It is well and good to criticize government because it is our government, our effort at self-governance free of kings, princes and oligarchs, and in that we should all play a stronger, more active role lest our future be dictated to us. This is our community for us to run and to direct toward a future that makes our children and their children proud. The Legacy that Mayor Ivan Lebamoff promised us, that Graham Richard demanded and that Tom Henry won is something that we all should cherish, protect and work to build.
Soon, this committee will have its rules in place, and will have chosen another citizen to complete the team and then they will welcome your ideas on how to make this America’s most livable city.
And, like Bill Bean it takes someone to step forward to make things happen.
The Fall Elections
Is there an election this fall? It just seems so quiet with little or nothing in the way of yard signs, billboards and TV ads. Perhaps it is because Indiana is carved into mostly “safe districts” where the incumbents are virtually assured of re-election, so they have no reason to debate the issues or ask your vote because their districts are safe. Have you noticed that Indiana has one of the lowest voter turnout rates in the country, the whole country! Perhaps it is because we sense our voices and our votes do not matter. Every 10 years after the census politicians redraw district boundaries. The lines are drawn by the same politicians whose livelihood depends upon protecting their own majorities. This form of vote-rigging leads to apathy, indifference and a collection of “wingers” holding office. You might ask why bother in election day? Most Hoosiers have already answered that question. But, there is a proposal in Indianapolis to have boundaries drawn by an independent, non-partisan board. The proposal has little or no chance of passing.