Reshaping city’s riverfront areas

November 17th, 2013

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Last updated: November 17, 2013 3:52 p.m.

Reshaping city’s riverfront areas

Paul Wyche | The Journal Gazette

Officials are convinced it’s time to find a way to take advantage of the city “founded on the rivers.”

And so is Zach Benedict.

As liaison architect on the riverfront development study, Benedict is entrusted with assisting SWA Group, a Sausalito, Calif.-based company. SWA received the final nod from City Council last week to move forward with a $500,000 study to create a plan of action for the St. Marys, St. Joseph, and Maumee rivers.

“So many times we go into a community for a project, but once we’re done there, that’s it. This is personal,” said Benedict, a partner with MKM architecture + design, 119 W. Wayne St. “We want to help coordinate design efforts and discussions about development. We want to make sure the end result fits within our local culture.”

Instead of Fort Wayne’s three rivers being known for overflows, city leaders envision a cohesive waterway system that optimizes the natural resources to encompass the city’s trails, downtown, retail, entertainment and housing areas.

Besides MKM, the SWA team includes Biohabitats of Baltimore, Moffatt & Nichol of Long Beach, Calif., and London-based AMEC. The study is expected to take up to 18 months. The public will be involved throughout, officials said.

The study is being paid for by the Legacy Fund, which is money from the lease and sale of the city’s old electric utility. The Allen County-Fort Wayne Capital Improvements Board also will kick in $50,000.

SWA is an architectural expert in riverfront development. Founded in 1957, SWA was formerly Sasaki, Walker and Associates. The globally recognized firm’s projects have received hundreds of awards. SWA, however, declined to talk about its work in the local study.

That’s OK, because the company’s work speaks for itself, Benedict said.

“They’re good, the best when it comes to riverfront development,” he said.

Others agree.

Anne Olson is president of the Buffalo Bayou Partnership, a non-profit group in Houston whose goal is to revitalize the city’s historic waterway. She credits SWA with laying a foundation. The firm designed the Sabine Promenade, a 2-mile stretch of hiking and biking trails that run underneath a freeway.

“It really is the prototype of what we’re trying to do and shows what can be done in major urban areas,” Olson said. “SWA has done planning and design work for Buffalo Bayou Partnership for more than 15 years. They are also the lead consultant on a $58 million park development along Houston’s Buffalo Bayou, just outside of downtown.”

Still, Fort Wayne isn’t exactly Houston, and that’s where Benedict comes in.

“Our role is to make sure (designs) fit the progressive vision for the community in Fort Wayne,” he said. “Having a local design firm present throughout the process will help SWA in areas that are unique to Fort Wayne.”

SWA handpicked MKM to be its local expert from a field of other impressive firms in Fort Wayne, said Pam Holocher, deputy director of planning and policy with community development for Fort Wayne.

She said MKM’s selection says a lot about Benedict and his partners, Dodd Kattman, Ronald Menze and Jerome Nix.

MKM recently was named Indiana’s Distinguished Firm of the Year by the American Institute of Architects.

“We do believe that like Harrison Square, this will be a major development for downtown and the rest of Fort Wayne,” Holocher said. “SWA has assembled a very diverse team” capable of pulling off what would be a comprehensive redesign of enormous scope, altering Fort Wayne’s landscape for decades to come.