East-side gateway into downtown to get an ‘artistic’ facelift

August 22nd, 2016

By Kevin Leininger | News - Sentinel 

A $200,000 makeover for a key entry point into downtown Fort Wayne will be part of a larger effort to link the Lakeside Neighborhood with nearby art attractions, the soon-to-be redeveloped Landing, riverfront and other destinations — and give the city its longest mural.

Much as was done last year on West Jefferson Boulevard and Lindenwood Avenue, the city plans to spend about $150,000 to refurbish and repaint the Clay Street overpass near Columbia and Main Streets, installing decorative lighting underneath. Dancers will be painted on the overpass and artist Jerrod Tobias has also been commissioner to create a 300-foot mural on a nearby concrete retaining wall. The designs are intended to provide a thematic connection to the nearby Performing Arts Center, Arts United Building and other attractions, Deputy Director of the Department of Planning and Policy Pam Holocher said. The mural is expected to cost about $60,000. Much of the funding will come from $1.25 million in city Legacy funds previously earmarked for improvements for major "gateways" into the city.

The railroad-approved zinc-based paint used on the overpasses is expected to last about 20 years. The mural, tentatively designed to incorporate various geometric shapes, would be longer-lasting than the artwork made from acrylic paint and butcher paper he and wife Kara created on the exterior of the downtown Allen County Library in 2013, which was designed to gradually disintegrate when exposed to the elements. Tobias has a degree in art from the Cleveland Art Institute.

"We need an entrance that will bring people into the arts campus, and this will provide that," Holocher said. Work is expected begin this year. Private-sector funds could also be sought for improvements to other overpasses, including one on Broadway that could be addressed next year. The railroad bridge over Lafayette Street entering downtown from the south has also received a less-extensive facelift.

In addition to the cosmetic improvements, officials are also working to make downtown more accessible for pedestrians when entering from the Lakeside Neighborhood on the east. New crossings are being reviewed and Freimann Square and the plaza at the county-owned Rousseau Centre adjacent to the Landing could also be incorporated into the plans.

"(That area) is a bottleneck, and our goal is to activate (access from) the east side through Freimann to the riverfront, trying to come up with a way to get through where the sidewalk ends (on Columbia)," added Bill Brown, director of the Downtown Improvement District.