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Breakfast with the Deputy Mayor
By Jim Sack
Fort Wayne Reader
During breakfast recently with Deputy Mayor Karl Bandemer he made three key points: tax abatements do work; financing of Skyline Tower will ultimately benefit Fort Wayne taxpayers; and downtown is in its best shape since the 1950s. On the latter we have no doubt. Mayor Henry, DM Bandemer, Mayors Richard, Helmke and Moses, and the others who have been involved have given hope to a center that was ravaged by the car culture, so ravaged that there were as many parking lots as buildings and more pigeons than people. Some will remember the Grand Leader, the Boston Store, and W&Ds, the Vim and Sappenfields, Meyers & McCarthy, and the Trolley Bar, the Rose Marie and the Jefferson Theater. Some will remember how over time demolitions, “redevelopment,” arson and neglect brought grand buildings down to be replaced with proto-ugly surface parking lots. Mr. Bandemer is correct to say leaders have turned the decay around, and there is now momentum toward a vibrant downtown of shops, cafes, pocket groceries, services and chic apartments. Downtown is becoming the center again of the city and the region.
However, the gifting of public land, that you and I paid for, to developer and head of the quasi-government organization called Greater Fort Wayne, Eric Doden, is just one of many examples that smack of insider cronyism, that seem patently unfair to the taxpayer.
Maybe that’s just the way things get done and the rest of us have to be content with contributing to the fortunes of Doden and others. Looking back a century, city fathers used tax money to lure Magnavox, Harvester and other companies to Fort Wayne. Incentives were lumped together in the early 80s by Mayor Moses and Lt. Governor John Mutz to persuade GM to locate on our I-69 cornfield rather than along I-75 or I-65.
There is a historic trend that comes into play; over the past 100 years the car facilitated urban sprawl. We have traded the walkability of neighborhoods for distant suburban sub-divisions linked by miles of expensive roads and supplied by expensive networks of sewers and water lines, supported by new schools, fire stations and strip malls where decades of your life are eating in traffic jams and runs to the store for milk. Meanwhile, the center, what should be the most vibrant and valuable part of our community, became a ghost town after 5pm, and property values plummeted.
So, what Karl and Tom, Paul, Graham, and Win have struggled to build downtown is a dense urban core of activities, attractions and amenities. To wit, consider the example of Skyline Tower. That aforementioned creeping suburban sprawl meant taxes on a prime block in the very center of our city had dropped to well under $100k. At breakfast, Karl promised — despite the expenses of deals and abatements, incentives and giveaways, and the hint of even more of the same — taxes on the property will soon rise to the millions, a substantial improvement. He also reminds of the two words that underpin the Legacy process — transformational and catalytic. DM Bandemer says there is a growing interest from other developers in downtown projects, all of which will continue the remarkable transformation going on between the Gas House and the Wood Shack. However, one should expect that the coming deals should depend less on taxpayer largess, turning instead to that “can do” attitude that supposedly once characterized the American entrepreneurial class. Certainly, there has been substantial and laudable progress in restoring the downtown, but the abatement and incentive processes have resulted in taxpayer anger and cynicism, something for which this and recent administrations and councils bear a responsibility.
Our Cynical Legislature
Republicans often chafe against distant Washington. They worship local control in the belief that communities left to their own devices can construct solutions to local needs that are less bureaucratic and more appropriate than those imposed by “pointy-headed bureaucrats,” as they label administrators in distant offices. Thus, it is a head scratcher that our Republican controlled legislature would preemptively protect plastic bags from local control. Perhaps the local control slogan is only a convenience for purposes of misleading the public. Instead, what the legislature has done goes to the power of business over localities. Companies contribute campaign funds in exchange for laws to protect profits, regardless of whether the overall cost to Hoosiers is greater from the damage the bags cause to our water, soil, neighborhoods, and farms. Given that our legislature and governor coddle water and air polluters in the name of freedom, it only follows they would protect other polluters as well, despite local efforts to clean things up. Actions speak louder than slogans.
Same with fenced hunts. The Indiana legislature has made it easier for old, fat men to sit on lawn chairs and shoot animals in fenced hunting grounds. Cage-hunters are simply sadists who take easy aim at domesticated deer and blow their brains out to satisfy some perversion. They are the lowest sort of a generally lowly bunch labeled trophy hunters. The Indiana legislature has partnered with these “sportsmen” to enshrine cruelty as an economic development tool. Soon sadists from all over the country will flock to Indiana for the “hunt.”
Waste Not Want Not
Legislator Liz Brown wants to defund recycling. She says the regional recycling districts are unnecessary. Certainly, recycling has come a long way from the days of riverbanks strewn with discarded washing machines, ad hoc roadside dumps, and bursting-at-the-seams landfills. But, Mrs. Brown misses the point: the majority of what we use is still not being recycled, rather just tossed out. The city and county have shown recycling benefits us all on numerous levels. Mrs. Brown, who professes herself to be a conservative, should consider doing more to conserve our nation’s resources rather than promoting a return to the old ways.