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The Journal Gazette

Sunday, October 01, 2017 1:00 am


Development's many benefits accrue across city, county

A letter writer last week accused officials with the city of Fort Wayne, Allen County and Greater Fort Wayne of focusing on economic development at the expense of public safety.

“What good is economic development if we as a city keep accepting year after year death tolls of 25 or more?” he asked. “The propaganda of quality of place and quality of life have been said over and over so the unwashed masses will start to believe that is the true agenda, but it's only downtown.”

Where to begin? Drugs, crime and record homicide numbers have been ignored?

Mayor Tom Henry's proposed budget for 2018 would add 24 police officers. The mayor proposed and City Council approved 28 new officers a year earlier.

Fighting growing numbers of illegal guns and an ongoing drug epidemic, the city steered more resources to the police's gang and violent crime unit and its vice and narcotics team. A new street crimes division was created to address thefts and burglaries. Greater emphasis has been placed on community outreach with Fort Wayne United, an initiativeto engage black men and boys in the community. A stronger partnership with the Fort Wayne-Allen County Department of Health has been forged.

The letter writer believes neighborhoods and other parts of the city have been neglected at the expense of downtown revitalization? How about the $75 million spent on neighborhood streets, roads, sidewalks and street lighting in 2016, or the $25 million spent this year? Then there's the extensive list of sidewalk and alley improvements set to begin as a result of City Council's leadership on the income tax increase. 

Much attention is focused now on development of Promenade Park as part of the riverfront project, but the city's nearly 90 parks always have been a point of pride for Fort Wayne, with continuing efforts to maintain and improve each of them.

And all of that's just within city limits.

“I look at the $17 million that will be invested in unincorporated areas of the county to help with the paving and sidewalks and things that – after 20 and 30 years – have begun to crumble,” said Allen County Commissioner Nelson Peters. “Those are huge investments when you look at our meager (County Economic Development Income Tax) budget. The neighborhoods aren't being forgotten.”

That's also evident in a trail system of nearly 100 miles, with pathways linking neighborhoods, parks and Fort Wayne's Rivergreenway. 

And, finally, there's the letter writer's claim that economic development benefits only “downtown buddies.”

Look no further than Rachel Blakeman's article on this page on newly released figures on the region's gross domestic product to see why public officials are looking to improve the region's economic performance. It's a discouraging picture compared with Indianapolis and the nation as a whole.

The lackluster figures make efforts under way here, supported by both city and county officials, even more necessary. Improving our standing on GDP would translate to jobs, bigger paychecks and greater financial security all around. Development projects downtown or anywhere create jobs and capital for far more than the developers. 

There's always room for improvement, but elected officials at both the city and county levels – as well as local economic development officials – deserve credit for making the connection between a vibrant downtown and strong neighborhoods.