The Journal Gazette
Friday, December 06, 2019 1:00 am

Riverfront project planner details goals for next phase

DAVE GONG | The Journal Gazette

Construction on the second phase of Fort Wayne's downtown riverfront development could begin in the next 12 to 18 months, city officials announced Thursday.

Dozens of residents packed the pavilion at Promenade Park as David Rubin, principal of Land Collective, the firm heading up the planning and design work for riverfront phases 2 and 3, outlined plans for upcoming changes along the St. Marys River. The Fort Wayne City Council approved a $2.4 million contract with Land Collective in October 2018.

Rubin said the team's work was done with an understanding of current market conditions.

“We are designing for what is a reality in terms of development, not something that is aspirational and incapable of being realized, but something that has fiduciary responsibility toward development,” Rubin said. 

It's important, Rubin said, to work alongside the river, rather than against it, by acknowledging flooding and other natural issues. The team is currently finishing the master plan and working through schematic design, Rubin said.

“Schematic design means that we're testing ideas to make sure that they work so we're not designing something that cannot be achieved,” he said.

Plans for Phase 2 incorporate the levee adjacent to the river. Visitors will be able to walk to the top, which will feature gathering spaces and other park amenities.

Phase 2 will also include space for short-term boat, kayak and canoe docking; an overlook deck on the Third Street Pump Station with a connecting elevated walkway; a wetland path; terraced lawn with amphitheater and space to build a future private restaurant and public restrooms. 

Phase 2 extends from Promenade Park to the Ewing Street Bridge.

“Our city is definitely making a transition into a community that is going to be second to none in the entire northern part of the state,” Mayor Tom Henry told the crowd, adding that Fort Wayne is on a roll. 

“We are a showcase and we're going to continue to be that,” he said.

Phase 3 won't be built until Phase 2 is completed, but plans for that section – which will run from the Ewing Street Bridge to the Van Buren Street Bridge – include:

• Wetland boardwalk through Guldlin and Bloomingdale parks

• Lookout tower open to residents and visitors

• Pedestrian bridge to connect the north and south banks of the St. Marys River

• Enhanced boat ramp and additional parking 

• Relocated levee in Bloomingdale Park

• Lawn bowl that could be used for winter sledding

• Nature play area for children

• Recreation areas, including basketball courts 

Plans also call for the project to “build on current private development successes, such as Superior Lofts, the Boutique Hotel, The Landing, the Premier Riverfront site and The Lofts at Headwaters Park,” a city news release said Thursday. There will also be a focus on private development on publicly owned sites near the downtown riverfront. 

The Downtown Edge zoning district will also have to be extended to the riverfront district to encourage mixed-use development and building density similar to the downtown area. About 60.7% of the riverfront area is zoned for industrial uses such as factories, self-storage and salvage yards, Rubin said. 

“We may want to shift that dynamic so that it creates more of a downtown edge, if you will, where live, work, play conditions can take place,” he said. “This is an area of thoughtfulness that we think we need continue to delve into and move forward with.”

The city's next step is to put together construction documents to put the work out to bid, Redevelopment Director Nancy Townsend said.

There is no cost estimate for Phase 2 yet, she added.

“That's part of the next step of the process,” she said. 

Townsend said Thursday's presentation is part of a long-term vision that involved a lot of community input and support.

“I don't know that there is an initiative that we've ever done that has received more general public support than riverfront,” she said. “It culminated in City Council stepping up, taking the brave step to approve the tax increase.”

After building Promenade Park and seeing the support and engagement in the community, Townsend said she's very optimistic about future phases of the project.

“It's about people; it's not about things. It's giving people what they want,” she said. “I think people want to get on the river and kayak, they want to be close to the river, they want to overlook things, they want to walk on the treetop canopy and I think that's what excites me the most.”

Not included in Thursday's presentation was Headwaters Junction, a proposed attraction that would include a roundhouse and contain the Nickel Plate 765 locomotive. In a statement Thursday, Kelly Lynch, executive director of Headwaters Junction, said the proposed facility has the potential to draw 140,000 visitors to downtown, with an estimated economic impact of about $60 million.

Headwaters Junction has also signed a purchase agreement with Norfolk Southern for nine acres of riverfront real estate and historic railroad right-of-way, Lynch said.

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