The proposed downtown Fort Wayne arena/event center is a lost cause – at least for now – after a long-awaited report said the venue would lose money.
Mayor Tom Henry on Thursday issued a statement that the city won't continue to pursue construction of the center, estimated to cost $105 million.
Instead, immediate efforts will focus on following through on other development initiatives now underway, the mayor said.
“After much debate, study and deliberation, I've made the decision to delay further action by the city of Fort Wayne on the downtown event center project,” Henry said.
“I believe we shouldn't make a long-term decision that just isn't ready and fully supported ... at this time.”
The mayor's statement came just after local officials received a consultant's report on feasibility of the event center. Prepared by Victus Advisers of Park City, Utah, the report, initially expected by Labor Day, was commissioned by the Allen County-Fort Wayne Capital Improvement Board.
The news was not encouraging. The report found the new facility would likely lose money while attracting only 10 new events a year.
And, after only three years, attendance would drop off from a projected 153,000 to 127,000, with half or more of those attendees coming for Mad Ants basketball. The numbers assume a stable team audience of 75,000 people annually, or about 3,000 per game.
Meanwhile, interviews with 18 sports, entertainment and arts promoters found that many believed existing venues would suffer, the report says.
“Nearly all” concert promoters said they saw Fort Wayne as “a secondary entertainment market” that would be oversaturated with venues if another is built. Most events booked would simply be transfers from the Coliseum, they said.
The center could lose $470,000 in operating costs annually if operated as a stand-alone facility and $17,000 if operated in conjunction with Grand Wayne Center, according to the report.
If operated with Grand Wayne and Memorial Coliseum, the facility could generate $144,000 in net income, but those numbers don't include necessary debt-service payments and savings and expenses for capital needs, according to the report.
The community could expect the facility to provide a direct and tax-related economic impact of about $90.8 million over 30 years, the typical useful life of a public gathering space, the report states. But it adds that “is lower than the expected costs of the facility,” which predicts limited sustainability.
Randy Brown, the Coliseum's executive vice president and director of operations, said the report bears out “pretty much what I've been saying all along.”
It “points out that there are very few new events and ... you're just relocating events from one venue to another,” he added. “It's not creating much new economic impact” and would have to be subsidized.
“I credit the mayor and county commissioners and the board and the committee. ... I know they really wanted to make it work, but at the end of the day when the numbers don't line up, I applaud them for doing what's right for the community.”
In his statement, Henry said he made his decision based on the Victus report and an earlier, more optimistic study of a lower-priced center by Hunden Strategic Partners.
Making a go of the event center will require funding assistance from the state, Henry said, and it would be premature to ask for it during the 2018 legislative session “when our community hasn't yet embraced the project.”
He mentioned riverfront development, three new downtown hotels, the Electric Works project on the former General Electric campus, Skyline Tower, The Landing and Superior Lofts among the projects going forward, and he did not rule out revisiting the idea of an event center.
“We're not done growing Fort Wayne but rather are bringing focus to our goals and objectives for 2018 and beyond,” he said.
To see the reports
To see the 2015 report conducted by Hunden Strategic Partners and a recent report by Victus Advisors that had different viewpoints on how a downtown event center would serve Fort Wayne, Allen County and northeast Indiana, click on this URL --
A previous version of this story should have said that, according to a report, the facility, if operated with Memorial Coliseum and Grand Wayne Center, could generate $144,000 in net annual income. But those numbers don't include necessary debt-service payments and savings and expenses for capital needs, according to the report.