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The Blueprint Plus plan

A progress report released June 13 says that some of the recommendations of last autumn’s Blueprint Plus report for city redevelopment have already been implemented. Here’s a look inside the report to see how it re-envisions downtown Fort Wayne.

By Michael Summers

michael_summers@fortwaynereader.com

Fort Wayne Reader

2006-06-20


It might surprise your average citizen of Fort Wayne to find out that while bar room and café debates rage over how, or why, we should revitalize downtown, a combined effort by city officials, community leaders, and concerned citizens is actually taking steps to turn some of these grand ideas into reality — or at least making some real, concrete plans to put downtown on the right path.

The Downtown Blueprint Plus plan sets the stage for implementation of many of the proposed and discussed plans for downtown revitalization. Some of the oldies-but-goodies that the Blueprint Plus plan indicates as being ready to make the leap from drawing board to reality include a new downtown hotel; mixed-use retail and residential development along with a parking garage on Washington Boulevard and Harrison; and conversion of Wayne and Berry streets and the two northbound blocks of Calhoun from one-way to two way for better traffic flow. In addition, several task forces were launched to look into a few other proposed projects, which the report calls Priority Catalyst Projects. These include how a relocated baseball stadium might serve as a catalyst for downtown development.

If you’re scratching your head and wondering where all this came from, you’re probably not alone, but the Blueprint Plus project has been around for a while — the report was made available in October 2005 —and has incorporated the input of many citizens who attended a series of charrettes (which, in urban planning, means a short, intensive design or planning activity). A progress report was issued June 13.

The number of committee, studies, and task forces involved can sound a little tricky, but here it is in its simplest form — the Blueprint Plus plan picked up from where another downtown framework plan, Downtown Blueprint for the Future, left off. Blueprint for the Future was completed in 2002 and offered a few key assumptions that, as the report said, were to serve as a guide to the planning process. Among these key assumptions in Blueprint for the Future — that downtown should become a key regional destination point; that it has to link its major destination venues; and that downtown’s future is as a mixed-use center (meaning residential, commercial, and retail).

But perhaps most interesting, the members of the community who worked with the Blueprint for the Future’s Steering Committee suggested that they would like to see the rivers incorporated into future development projects.

In all, Blueprint for the Future recommended 76 initiatives. In the language of the report, Blueprint Plus builds on those initiatives (some of which have been implemented), and tackles the issue of how to restore downtown as the center of the region.

Led by a Steering Committee that includes 24 elected city and county officials and members of the public, Blueprint Plus breaks downtown into three core zones. The first is the central core of downtown, which is bound by the river to the north, Jefferson Boulevard to the south, Lafayette to the east and Fairfield to the west. The other two zones are what might be described as “north of the river,” the large industrial-type area that includes the Omnisource property; and the residential neighborhoods to the east, west, and south of the central core. The Blueprint Plus report states “the revitalization of the core could hardly be sustained if it remained an island of redevelopment surrounded by vast areas of disinvestment, neglect, and low density suburban-like development that are contrary to the dignified character of downtown.” Sharon Feasel from the City of Fort Wayne’s Redevelopment Department puts it another way: “Downtown is extremely complex. It’s not just about residences. It’s about institutions, and offices and government, everything together. But we want to work with the neighborhoods, too, so we don’t feel like we’re competing with each other.”

The task force looking at the second zone — the industrial tracts north of the river — are examining the possibility of a “youth sports complex” in that area. It was an idea originally brought up by community members who attended the charrettes, and a way for “downtown” to incorporate the rivers. Feasel says they hope a big catalyst project in the area would be able to play off the existing Science Central and Headwaters Park. “It’s just too big of an area to expect a housing project or retail to just take it over and ask them to do something for us,” Feasel says. “We need a big anchor up there.” She adds that Fort Wayne has done a good job of attracting some youth sports tournament events, but hasn’t been able to really capitalize on that because of lack of facilities. “Is it possible that we could become sort of a regional sports Mecca?” Feasel says. “Maybe it’s swimming, maybe we become a flex space that could change from basketball courts or volley ball to indoor soccer. Do we need ice for hockey? We need to study those possibilities.”

The changes talked about in the Blueprint Plus plan are pretty dramatic and ambitious, but they make for pretty interesting reading. One thing the plan stresses is that these are proposals — they are proposals with some realistic suggestions on how to go about turning them into something else, or at least exploring the possibility that they could be turned into something else, but basically, they’re still proposals. It took forty years to drive everyone out of downtown and to the suburbs; even with a plan, it might take a little while to get them back.

You can read the full Blueprint Plus report — all 60 pages — at www.cityoffortwayne.org.

Maps and illustrations from the Blueprint Plus report courtesy of ACP and the City of Fort Wayne.

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