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Controlling our destiny
By Jim Sack
Fort Wayne Reader
The Fan Experience
The one catalytic and transformational proposal that failed to get a round of applause during the mayor’s state of the city was the arena/event center. Silence. Not one lone clap. Silence. It seemed a bit awkward. That suggests lots of skepticism among the community leadership who filled the seats at the Grand Wayne that February day, let alone the rank and file not in attendance who are always resistant to bold steps. Déjà vu? Perhaps. The same was true of the downtown ball park proposal a decade or so ago.
Back then the counter-argument was that we already had a ballpark, and didn’t need a new one. Certainly, time has proven that the central city ballpark, Parkview Field, has been the catalyst around which nearly every other downtown project has sprung. It has been transformational and catalytic. It has changed Fort Wayne dramatically, in short, it jump-started the ongoing redevelopment of our city. A decade ago, it was reported a majority were against constructing Parkview Field. And, you may remember, Councilman John Crawford lost his council seat over his ballpark vote, and the then vilified smoking ordinance.
A big part of the reason for the blah nature of the old stadium was location: moving the venue to the center of things from an isolated field distant from restaurants, shops and other attractions. A big reason for the success of the new ballpark has been its tight fit in the center of town a walk away from so many other things to do.
But Parkview Field might not have been much of an improvement had it been designed like the stadium at the Coliseum which was boring, to say the least. It was nothing like the new downtown stadium in which the ball game is nearly incidental to the action on the promenade around the field. Parkview Field is a safe, inviting place to gather with friends and family, as well as watch a ballgame. Consequently, it has been showered with recognition and awards. The old stadium, to offer a metaphor, was ancient technology.
The proposed downtown arena should also be a transformational catalyst, if it is done right, if top architects partnered with local designers bring the best of the rest of the world home to Fort Wayne.
And, instead of cannibalizing attendance at the Embassy or Grand Wayne, it is expected to add to their potentials to attract bigger conventions and higher quality events. A central arena will just add to the possibilities that Dan O’Connell at Visit Fort Wayne has to work with. As for Randy Brown who manages the Coliseum expect him and whoever runs the arena to be pushed hard to work together to bring multi-venue events to the city and for ESPN and the like spend much more time here.
The big problem is the price tag that started around $60 million, snuck up to $85 million and now looks to be $100 million before the cost overruns are taken into consideration. $130 million? And, add a million or so for the ground. Maybe a million or two more for infrastructure upgrades. That it will be a significant benefit to the community is hard to dispute. That it is worth the cost is yet to be demonstrated. So it is up to the mayor and the business leaders who served on the arena feasibility task force to clearly explain the cost-benefit analysis and to conjure up ways to pay for the arena that will not disproportionally cause taxpayer belt-tightening. They might also budget in something to O’Connell’s budget to help ramp up use, but they should make the costs plain and transparent.
Citywide, the mayor and the folk at Greater Fort Wayne have encouraged well over $1 billion in projects based on a tapestry of funding sources, most relying upon public tax dollars, in one form or another. The arena is one of the biggest ticket items.
Some on city council fear the same fate as Dr. Crawford, but also a regressive minority on council also oppose bold projects as a point of dogma.
March 4 Trump vs. The Woman’s Rally
Suffice it to say that two thousand women rallying with supporters on the awkward Court House Green in November compared to the 20 or so “March-4-Trump” rally should tell you something. Whether there will be any residual political effect is the bigger question.
The Hypocrisy of State’s Rights and Home Rule
Frequently, city officials lament the constraints the state legislature places on economic development and other local initiatives. Same frustration is vented around the state. In Bloomington, for example, their council worked to restrict the use of plastic grocery bags, but with uncharacteristic speed our legislature passed a targeted bill to prohibit Bloomington from that step. One surmises various lobbies and donors provided the hasty impetus.
More recently, our legislature passed a bill that allows utilities to put cell towers in public rights-of-way and precluded cities and towns from regulating locations. In short, your front yard could sprout a cell tower and you would have no recourse. In fact, your neighborhood could sprout a dozen cell towers, drive down your property values, and you would be plum out of luck.
So far, city council has been mute on the subject, but the Henry Administration has stood for community standards and neighborhoods.
Our state legislature is controlled completely by Republicans, so they can ram just about any bill down local throats, as is the case with this bill.
The irony is that these same Conservative Republican legislators are among the first to demand “states rights” from Washington, but covetously resist extending the same to Indiana’s communities.