A $500,000 study of how to make use of Fort Wayne's downtown riverfront areas won preliminary approval Tuesday.
City Council members voted 8-1 to approve a $499,500 contract with SWA Group for a comprehensive look at how the rivers that have been were key to the area throughout its history might be used.
There have been numerous studies of downtown over the years, and numerous recommendations that the city should use its rivers to its advantage. But no study has ever looked at how to use them, whether they can be used, how they can be used and what their use might mean for development.
This study will examine everything from environmental issues, flooding, navigation, recreation uses, hydrology, economic development, and market viability to entertainment options.
The city's deputy director of planning and policy, Pam Holocher, said SWA Group put together a team of six firms, each specializing in certain areas, and that the group firm has experience in areas with flooding and sewage overflow issues.
"This is probably going to impact the entire region," Holocher said, noting that surveys of residents have repeatedly put riverfront development at the top of people's' wish list, even for those living outside the city.
The issues are many: Not only do the rivers flood in some areas, but other areas are protected by large, expensive levies that may make development impossible. There is a mix of city-owned park land and privately -owned businesses. There are swampy areas and busy streets, industrial areas and spots that could be contaminated.
Holocher said the study is expected to take up to 18 months.
"I'm just so excited to find out what we can or can't do with our riverfront," said Tom Smith, R-1st, who has long pushed for riverfront development.
The study is being paid for by the Legacy Fund, which is money from the lease and sale of the city's old electric utility, although the Allen County-Fort Wayne Capital Improvements Board has also agreed to pay $50,000 toward the cost.
Mitch Harper, R-4th, was the lone "no" vote, citing concerns he had with the study, but he said he could change his mind before the vote next week on final approval.
City officials also proposed spending $5 million on educational initiatives, but feedback from council members briefed on the idea before the meeting prompted them to revise the dollar amounts significantly.
Officials had wanted to use $3.million to create a higher education scholarship fund that would have the Questa Foundation administer forgivable loans in an effort to increase the education levels of the area's workforce and keep talented people in the area. The $3.million would be set aside and the program would be paid for by the investment earnings on the money. Officials also proposed using $2 million to promote workforce training programs.
But city officials Tuesday proposed funding the scholarship program with $200,000 a year for four years, with an annual review to determine adding another year to the end. The workforce training program would be funded at $100,000 a year with an annual review.
Because of the changes, members voted unanimously to hold the proposals one week.
The council also voted unanimously to spend $2.8.million for a new customer information system for City Utilities, a computer system to manage the utility's massive operation handling 100,000 customers and issuing 1 million bills a year.