Home > Political Animal > Sidewalks, etc.
By Jim Sack
Fort Wayne Reader
City council discussed sidewalk upkeep at a rare special session and did nothing.
Russ Jehl, the former council president, called the meeting to bring clarity to the matter and consider new policy, but the meeting skirted the principle questions of responsibility and enforcement. Bobby Kennedy, head of the Board of Public Works and his sidekick, Mario Trevińo laid out the law, the current situation, plans and funding sources in a thirty-minute slide and pony show, and then sat back as council muddled along for two hours without seeming 1.) to have grasped the basics; and 2.) without forming the first bit of consensus upon which to act.
Our 40-year old sidewalk ordinance places that duty and expense of sidewalk upkeep on adjacent property owner. The public, however, has become confused as to responsibility primarily due lack of enforcement and confusing pronouncements from council and our mayor. During the meeting it seemed only one, maybe two councilmen had bothered to read the ordinance and to consider ramifications and remedies. Maybe none. All, however, said their constituents had made the issue a priority.
So, a sizeable percentage of city sidewalks are in advance stages of disrepair, including plenty that have become a hazard to kids, adults and dachshunds.
To compound the problem, oh too many landlords have no interest in repairing adjacent sidewalks. In older neighborhoods, where sidewalks have surpassed the end of the 50-year lives and where landlords are numerous, the sidewalks are in the worst shape. Negligence leads to faster deterioration of both sidewalks and the quality of life in so-called “transitional neighborhoods.”
Occasionally, the city throws up its hands under pressure from neighborhood leaders or councilmen and replaces great swaths of sidewalk at cost to all taxpayers.
In an effort to encourage adjacent property owners to repair, the city offers the Barrett Law, a fifty-fifty match repayable over ten years, which is among the most generous offered by any city in the country. Few property owners take advantage of the Barrett Law because they are 1.) unaware of their responsibility; or 2.) have no idea the fund exists.
Council has three paths to resolve the matter. They can either condemn bad sidewalks and compel adjacent property owners to repair with that 50-50 sweetener, or the city can shift maintenance of sidewalks to the general fund, meaning across the board tax increases, or they can leave the current state of confusion of hit and miss repair. Council, during the special meeting, proposed a couple convoluted funding methods — for example, taking TIF money from one pocket to fill the other pocket — but settled on neither a principle nor a plan. In short, council failed, and they didn’t even seem to be better informed by the exercise.
One office that is getting the job done in Fort Wayne is Visit Fort Wayne! Tourists, thanks to the diligence and dogged persistence of that office, pump hundreds of millions into our city. Since the ‘80s when Dan O’Connell arrived to take over the then moribund tourism authority there has been a steady increase in the number of tourists visiting our city, and a rise in the amount of wealth they pump into the local economy. To be clear, when he arrived in the 80s the office was hidden in a basement “cell” of the old Chamber building, was funded by hit-and-miss methods, and was of little help to attractions or events. That has dramatically changed.
Tourism dollars put people to work at first level or tourism, the attractions, shops and restaurants, and the dollars spread out to the rest of the community through what is called the “multiplier effect.” We all gain.
O’Connell and his staff at Visit Fort Wayne are essentially the sales and marketing arm for the city with their office funded in part by the one percent food and beverage tax. Their work pumps some $600 million into the local economy which not only creates jobs at tourism businesses, but also helps pay for the upkeep of the Coliseum, fills the Grand Wayne, sells beers at Parkview Field, and supports other venues, shops and businesses throughout the county.
Visit Fort Wayne’s results are uniformly praised by local officials and convention planners. For, example, an official heading a recent convention at the Grand Wayne lavished compliments on Mr. O’Connell, his staff, for the savvy effort VFW made to win the convention to Fort Wayne, and for the many little touches during the convention that made the event eminently successful. The organizer said Fort Wayne had done the best job of any city in hosting his national convention, and promised his 1,000 or so participants would be back soon. Figure each conventioneer to this one event of hundreds spent $100 to $250 a day and you can gauge the value.
So, it is logical that Visit Fort Wayne would be behind all that is developing in Fort Wayne, including the riverfront, the arena, and Headwater’s Junction, the proposed new home for Steam Engine 765. VFW will contribute to making each a success, without a doubt, but they add that the 765 train complex will be unique in the country and lift us up that next tourism notch to the status of a destination. Expect families to visit from other parts of the world in order to take the romantic ride, visit the adjacent museum, spend the night, and then wander into the city with stops in shops, restaurants, and at our other attractions. In short, the tourism folk think 765 will mean more income to Fort Wayners as it serves as a transformational and catalytic contributor to the success of all of our other downtown initiatives.
Among VFW’s goals is to make Fort Wayne a more attractive, exciting and active place for our families, and to support the efforts of job recruiters working to bring top workers, creative minds, and upscale businesses to Fort Wayne. In all that, Visit Fort Wayne is a resounding success.
With that In Mind…
Credit to Councilman Geoff Paddock and the railroad alliance he helps lead in winning the go ahead from the federal government to conduct a pivotal study that should lead to the return of regular rail passenger service to Fort Wayne. Certainly, the study might turn up some major problem, but from previous experience this go-ahead all but heralds daily runs east and west out of the Baker Street Station. On a recent ride between Vienna and Budapest we had a chance to see what the future here would look like. The cars were sleek and clean, WIFI was excellent, the food car was a comfortable place to do work or carry on conversations over a Lager, and at the end of the ride we disembarked in the middle of the city, not miles out on the fringe. In short, the train service Mr. Paddock envisions will carry us into the Loop or eastward to downtown Columbus and heart of Washington D.C. The same is true coming this way for families riding the rails to Fort Wayne for that visit to 765, to revel in a ballgame or to drop a student off at St. Francis University. For his dogged determination Mr. Paddock and his chief Leutnant, Fred Lanahan, should get Valentine’s Cards from all of us.