If everything goes according to plan, Greater Fort Wayne Inc.’s STEAM Park will likely be the only one of its kind in the country.
"We have not seen anything like this around the country in this way," Greater Fort Wayne Inc. CEO Eric Doden said Friday. "Which is what excites us about something unique that no one else has done."
Unveiled at Greater Fort Wayne Inc.’s annual meeting Thursday, the $180 million park’s name stands for Science Technology Engineering Arts and Math. Current plans call for a saltwater and freshwater aquarium and an IMAX theater, as well as buildings designed for fun educational children’s programming. The whole thing would be connected to Lawton Park by a land bridge to provide easier access to Science Central, Doden said.
The overall goal is to ultimately connect the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo to STEAM Park and Science Central by way of some kind of shuttle system, creating a campus feel, Doden said.
STEAM Park was announced Thursday as part of Greater Fort Wayne Inc.’s 10-year plan and was one part in a set of five revitalization projects that included The Landing, riverfront development, the downtown arena and the General Electric campus.
The inspiration for the aquarium came from Chattanooga, Tennessee, where the Tennessee Aquarium draws about 1 million visitors to the city per year, Doden said.
In addition to all manner of aquatic life, Greater Fort Wayne Inc. plans to approach tech companies like Google, Apple and Amazon to provide fun, educational programming for Fort Wayne youth.
The companies have not yet been approached, Doden said. However, he noted that programming would be geared toward inspiring children to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, the arts or math.
"We want to do these projects in the proper way, which is to get the community involved first, get their feedback and then get serious about approaching these companies," Doden said.
Doden noted that he’s looking forward to meeting with the companies to learn about the types of programs in which they’d consider participating.
The proposed site for the park is the River North property formerly owned by OmniSource. The land is still owned by the Rifkin family, Doden said.
"We’ve been in very high-level discussions but nothing specific yet as to how that (land) would be acquired," Doden said. "There will be a process and we will be working to do the best we can to facilitate this process and make a win-win for the community and the Rifkins."
The city has been trying to purchase the land from the Rifkin family for years. In Dec. 2011, Mayor Tom Henry told The Journal Gazette that he expected a deal would be made for the property by the end of his second term. At that time, the city’s goal was to rezone the parcel for commercial development.
The STEAM Park project is likely going to require some public funds. Doden said Greater Fort Wayne Inc. is reviewing the available financing tools.
"We’re using some outside experts who are really reviewing in detail our municipal financing tools like (tax increment financing) and other tools available for these kinds of projects," Doden said. "Over the next few months to a year or so, we intend to lay out all of these projects and find the best tool to afford them."
Although the city has not had a chance to thoroughly review the plans, mayoral spokesman John Perlich said they have "the potential to be creative, bold and visionary."
"There’s no question Greater Fort Wayne Inc. wants to help make Fort Wayne a point of destination and present an atmosphere that will excite potential employers and investors about our city," Perlich said. "Community collaboration will be necessary to move ideas like the one proposed by Greater Fort Wayne forward."