Fort Wayne is exceptionally good at doing things in a big way.
Maybe this is a characteristic that dates back to the 19th century and the building of our beautiful courthouse. During a time when the Midwest was undergoing transformation brought on by machinery and farm specialization, it must have been quite controversial to get behind building this magnificent structure we enjoy today.
Completed in 1902, the courthouse was a gift to future generations from visionary leaders who wished to express our regional presence through art and architecture; it has been recognized for its original murals and sculptures, scagliola faux marbling, unique tile floor designs and abundant stained glass. Imagine the idea of committing $1 million to build this marvelous structure during a time when our population was growing with new immigrants and manufacturing.
Fast forward 100+ years and we've applied that kind of leadership to projects such as the library and its expansion (1968/2007), the Arts United Center (1973), the Embassy Theatre restoration (1976), the Grand Wayne Center and its expansion (1983/2003), The Museum of Art (1984), Headwaters Park (1993), Parkview Field (2009), and all the Riverfront development (2017 and beyond).
That big idea isn't just downtown. Look to the Coliseum and its roof-raising as one of those architectural feats that many doubted. Each time one of these massive projects has come forward, community leaders had to stand up and show the community their support and commitment to doing something great.
With the Fort Wayne Legacy Fund, we continue to have that ability to create positive influences in our community, but there is a change that has created doubt in current projects and put at risk future projects (both large and small). It seems the trend recently to treat this funding resource as a political opportunity to speak to our community about its commitment to conservatism or detesting spending public dollars on community projects.
Some think it's better to say no to everything instead of standing up and showing what leaders have known for more than 100 years. Our community is conservative and wants its tax dollars spent well, but it also gets behind projects that improve our community. When needed – as they did with Electric Works – leaders get out front and explain to the community why something may be transformative, showing them the possibilities and reassuring them that spending precious dollars on community assets will be worth it because that's what leadership is all about.
The sad fact is that this “focus on no” has spread even to small projects. Currently, the Science Central Planetarium project has gotten tied up with the ongoing debate about “the corpus” rule applied to the Legacy Fund. Right now, the Legacy Fund balance sits just shy of the $30 million balance that was recommended – but not mandated – by statute. This project, which is currently being affected by increased costs associated with products where tariffs may apply and where increasing software and labor costs are leading to a potential funding shortfall of 30%, is for far less than most of our requests – a mere $500,000. It has been before City Council for nine months and has no sign of moving forward because it is an election year with all elected officials on the ballot.
As a resident, business owner and aspiring citizen leader, I hope my adopted community will hold its representatives accountable for their position and voice in the future commitments we make to our community. This “no” position on everything is not leadership, and continued failure to move this project forward affects our current sons and daughters as well as future generations.
For now, if a child has an interest in the stars and expanses beyond, they must go to Muncie. Good thing we didn't have this leadership philosophy when funding was needed for the Courthouse. We would be a very different community.
Stacey Smith is president and CEO of PQCWorks, PQCTech, PQCTrains; founder of Windrose Learning; and chairwoman of the city's Legacy Committee.