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The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, March 16, 2016 3:19 pm

'Wow' is word driving city on developing riverfront

John Crawford

Hundreds of eager citizens turned out on a snowy night on Wednesday to hear the results of the Riverfront Development Study that was commissioned to explore riverfront development in Fort Wayne.

After the presentation of the master plan, enthusiasm remains extremely high. The Legacy Task Force identified this as the No. 1 priority for Legacy Fund investment.

I believe this is a perfect project for public investment. This is what the Legacy Fund should be used for – big, bold ventures that would not occur without public investment priming the pump. This leads to excitement and energy that attracts private dollars.

Riverfront development can be the next big thing in Fort Wayne and expand on the city’s transformation begun with expansion of the Grand Wayne Center, the building of Parkview Field and the current Ash Brokerage project. This growth enhances economic development throughout the city.

The study correctly concluded that the Promenade is the first phase that should be started to seed additional development. This phase will probably require primarily public funds to proceed.

We should move with all deliberate speed on this. Land acquisition is likely required; the city should complete this first step so we can begin to seek bids for construction. Funds to pay for construction of the Promenade can then be secured from Legacy and other public funds, foundation grants, developers and donations. Everyone needs to be on board with this initial phase monetarily to get things moving quickly.

Riverfront Fort Wayne needs to have the "wow" effect on people. We want young people to be impressed with the energy of a growing downtown with many exciting amenities. The quality of place and quality of life are now prime drivers in economic development.

Young professionals with skills for the jobs of the future have opportunities to locate in many cities. If we have a vibrant, dynamic downtown, we increase our chances of attracting them to Fort Wayne. Companies with the jobs of the future can also locate in many places.

Today, companies with jobs follow people and locate in cities with the workforce they need.

Cities that provide the fundamentals of good infrastructure, keeping taxes as low as possible, and regulations minimal plus have an attractive place to live will win the race for the future.

But we must do "wow" with wisdom.

When I voted at City Council to proceed with the Harrison and the ball park, it was a difficult decision. That endeavor proved to be key to the momentum we now have downtown. However, many of the contracts and agreements required for those projects could have been crafted better. That experience should guide us in getting riverfront development done with the best value for the citizens.

Let’s move decisively and quickly on riverfront development to keep the enthusiasm and momentum alive. Economic development will follow; in fact, it has already begun with expansion of Fort Wayne Outfitters and The Deck at Hall’s Gas House. The study is complete, the citizens like the plan, so let’s get on with it without delay.