The Journal Gazette
Thursday, July 26, 2018 1:00 am

City's residents want and expect more

Shift in opinion on redevelopment must include commitment

Tom Niezer

Recently, Greater Fort Wayne Inc. released the results of a Campos Research poll of over 600 Allen County residents gauging the knowledge of and desirability of the Electric Works development. The poll found a very high percentage supporting the Electric Works development and the public-private funding required.

This is another confirmation that the transformative nature of Electric Works is widely supported and embraced by a broad segment of the Fort Wayne and Allen County community.

The poll results also revealed broad-based community support for Parkview Field, the Ash Skyline development, The Landing redevelopment, the ongoing Riverfront redevelopment, the proposed STEAM Park and the Clyde Theatre redevelopment.

Seeing these results took me down memory lane to a guest editorial I wrote in August 2006 in support of the downtown plan for what is now Parkview Field and the multitude of development we have seen since. This juxtaposition of the community's attitudes 12 years ago and those of today is striking. That change in attitude should cause all of us to reflect on what we desire as a community in the days and years ahead.

Today, our community does not fight or question economic development in a manner similar to the decision to relocate Memorial Stadium to downtown Fort Wayne. Rather, the community now has an expectation of wanting and seeing demonstrated success.

The community better understands the rationale for economic development. We have a better sense that Fort Wayne is capable of doing more, being more things to more people and, perhaps most of all, competing on a bigger stage, or as some say, building a nationally recognized economy. We have a better sense of who we are and what we can be as a community.

Yes, we are Indiana's second-largest city, but we no longer see ourselves as a stepchild to Indianapolis. Instead, we see ourselves having a responsibility to be a leader for an 11-county region known as Northeast Indiana. A region whose success is tied to many things, but most of all a growing and vibrant Fort Wayne.

It is all right to let the positivity of the public opinion poll sink in. But, with wider community support of new development in our city and county comes an increasing expectation for our political, business and nonprofit leaders to reach even more, to climb higher, to achieve a greater sense of purpose and to accomplish more.

We must not mistake the poll's results as a sign that our community is doing well enough. That kind of complacency will cause us to fall behind in the never-ending quest for new business to locate in our area and existing business to expand.

Our success should motivate us to generate investment from new and existing business, increase employment and lead the region in growing to over 1,000,000 people by 2030. If we fail to accomplish these goals, we will have taken one step forward and two steps back.

Sure enough, our ongoing community success will become not easier but rather more challenging and more complex and will involve an even higher level of commitment by all involved. An even greater Fort Wayne is worth this effort.

An amazingly high percentage of people desire the Electric Works redevelopment and other similar initiatives already completed, underway or planned for the near future. That type of support does not diminish a level of appropriate due diligence in providing public financial resources.

That support, however, does suggest the community wants more than just a careful and judicious approach to the use of public funding that is available. The community now expects these initiatives to be used and realized for the higher purpose of growing our region, making it more attractive to existing and potential employers and drawing a greater class of talent from our area secondary and post-secondary schools.

It is misguided to place the obligation of that success solely on the shoulders of a developer who is the recipient of some measure of public funding. If all of us are not working to leverage, promote, support and literally take advantage of the investments we are making in our community, then the broad base of community support we see in initiatives like Electric Works will eventually disappear.

The message of the public opinion poll is that the community has matured into a city that wants and expects more. As a result, it is time to decide: will we look back and be satisfied with our present level of success or will we commit ourselves to making Fort Wayne an even better place to live?

My hope today, in answering that question, is the same as it was 12 years ago. We should always expect more for our community, just as we should always expect more from our community. The status quo should never be acceptable if we want Fort Wayne, Allen County and the entire region we call home to grow and prosper.

Attorney Tom Niezer is a partner at Barrett McNagny LLP.

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