Home > Political Animal > Momentum
By Jim Sack
Fort Wayne Reader
The recent public hearing at city council concerning the proposed new tax was nicely civil. A few dozen folk spoke in favor, a few against, and no one insulted anyone or threatened armageddon should the tax pass, which it likely will. In fact, the sentiment in favor of levying a tax to fund the riverfront second and third stages, as well as sidewalks and alleys, seems to be gaining in popularity. Four votes are all but certain, a fifth vote is likely and two other councilmen are leaning in favor, contingent upon concessions and conditions.
A second public hearing will be held July 11th and one can expect the “No” side to mount a bit of a counter attack after having been greatly out numbered at the first hearing.
The rivers are our raison d’etre and our greatest nature resource, so it makes more than a bit of sense to clean them up, not the color, but the quality of the water. Both the St. Mary’s and St. Joseph remain badly polluted. It is highly unlikely the health commissioner would encourage anyone to either wade or swim in our rivers, but the city is doing just that with a selection process currently underway for a kayak and canoe livery, not to mention the thousands spent on the canal boat replica that occasionally plies the shallow waters of the three rivers with beflowered maidens languidly trailing fingers in the water.
Much of the 20th Century industrial pollution that streamed into our rivers has been stemmed, but there are still plenty of farmers who pollute the waters with pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers and animal waste. The city would be well advised to mount an effort at the State House to stem those toxins. Unfortunately, our legislature is controlled by men who stand with the polluters, not our languid maidens.
And, as to the color of the rivers, the artists who produce the beautiful tableaus of how the riverfront might look always paint the rivers blue, as if the Mighty Saint Mary’s is the fabled Danube. In the case of Vienna it is not the color of the river, but what a city does along the banks that brings prosperity and fame. At the moment, Fort Wayne leaders have a vision and momentum and our national reputation is on the march.
In fact, two major projects will come to fruition about the same time in summer of 2018 to give more vigor to that march: much of phase one of the riverfront will be done, as will the conversion to residences of old warehouses along Superior Street. They nicely compliment each other, a large population of people adjacent to a recreational asset. Both ribbon cuttings will engender more momentum.
Meanwhile, we have a head-scratcher example of synergies at Washington and Lafayette where a new liquor store will sit just a couple minutes’ walk from the new Rescue Mission. Win-win?
Meanwhile number two, there is growing sentiment on council to tighten up rules for issuing tax abatements. We have oft written about the attendant abuses, and of companies that saw reducing their taxes as icing on the cake, rather than a helping hand, and we have written about companies that are enthusiastic about taking the breaks, but cavalier about reporting compliance on their side of the deal. Recently, more than a dozen corporate recipients failed to meet a reporting deadline. Much of an evening at council was spent reading their names and offences into the record. Last year council stripped a number of companies of their abatements. With full employment in the area, a booming economy, a paucity of contractors available for projects and plenty of momentum afoot, the rising sentiment is to focus abatements on those company bringing new jobs and wealth to the community. While the abatement does help some companies modernize and expand, the underlying goals of creating high paying jobs and export markets should be the deciding factors, according to some councilmen.
The arena is still on the table. There are quiet discussions going on as to how to fund the construction of the 5,000 seat event center across Washington from the Library. There are also discussions as to how to sell the building to the community. As it stands there are more people against the project than for it. Their reasons are simple: it competes with the Coliseum, thus, not needed; it is damn expensive, and it is low on the list of projects citizens think necessary to the betterment of the city.
On the other hand, many city leaders see it as a synergistic compliment to the Embassy, to the Grand Wayne, ballpark and Library, not to mention the downtown hotels, St. Francis and other public facilities thus increasing year-round activity downtown. Certainly, city tourism people see the arena as a game-changer that will attract much bigger conventions, shows, and sporting events, not to mention another hotel, new construction and redevelopment. So, the arena is not dead. The real question, as any investor will tell you, is ROI. Can it prove an asset demonstrably more valuable than its cost? Can it add to our momentum? Councilman Michael Barranda is adamant that not a pfennig of the above mentioned tax hike should be skimmed to pay for the arena. He is backed by others on council, so it is up to community leaders to find the $100 million to build the facility, set up an operating fund, and to explain to all of us with simple bullet points how an arena will benefit our families, bring collateral income to the community, and pay for itself in revenues generated.
The march forward, our positive momentum, depends on good planning, execution and, critically, citizen buy-in.