Brenna Noll and Jose Ortiz wandered over after they grabbed lunch at Greekfest.
The Smiths came out of curiosity. Their downtown destination was the YLNI Farmer’s Market.
But the Tusseys were standing on the Historic Wells Street Bridge on Saturday morning because they made an effort to attend Riverpalooza. A friend of theirs was competing in the dragon boat races.
Hundreds gathered in Headwaters Park West to eat, drink and enjoy the river Saturday. Dynamic Dragon Boat Racing from Knoxville, Tennessee, provided the boats, oars, life jackets and rower training. Various local employers paid the $2,100 entry fee per boat stocked with about 22 employees.
The event, in its second year, was organized by the Mayor’s Youth Engagement Council. It’s a small sample of local leaders’ larger vision for the area.
Economic development officials want to spur $100 million in investment at the riverfront by installing a lighted boardwalk and other infrastructure that would become a year-round lure to retailers, residents and, ultimately, tourists.
Mike Tussey moved to town about 30 years ago, and he’s impressed by how downtown is evolving. He and his wife, Cecilia, both 51, are eagerly awaiting a time when they can stroll along a riverfront boardwalk.
"I think it will happen, and I think it will be wonderful," he said. "In the time we’ve been here, when Fort Wayne puts its mind to something, it usually gets it done."
"Parkview Field is a blessing," he added.
Noll and Ortiz, both 23, are among the millennial generation that city leaders are trying to retain and attract. Noll, who lives in Leo-Cedarville, grew up in the area and has friends who have decided to stay put.
"They want to see the progress," she said.
Ortiz has watched the city change since he moved here five years ago.
"I hated it, but now I love it," he said.
They agreed that being old enough to drive and be admitted to bars helps open the entertainment options.
The Smiths are equally keen on Fort Wayne. Kim Smith, 56, wants to kayak on the river now that she’s seen how much fun people were having.
Donald Smith, 66, recalled his local childhood.
"We used to fish in the rivers," he said.
But the good old days weren’t all good, he added. Back then, people threw trash into the flowing waters.
"We’ve come so far in learning to respect the rivers," Donald Smith said. "Think what a resource the rivers are."
Matt Sweet, 40, heard the commotion on the St. Marys River because he lives nearby. That’s why he was standing on the bridge about noon Saturday watching dragon boats glide by as he took drags from a cigarette.
People in his neighborhood talk bad about the river, Sweet said, because they see so much trash in it when the water level is low. He’d like to see people pitch in to clean it up. He’s optimistic it can happen because he’s already seen downtown momentum building.
"Things look a lot nicer down here than when I moved to the city," he said.