Residents gather at Wunderkammer to support Regional Cities Initiative for Northeast Indiana

March 26th, 2015

News Coverage:

Residents gather at Wunderkammer to support Regional Cities Initiative for Northeast Indiana

By Jaclyn Goldsborough of The News-Sentinel

Thursday, March 26, 2015 - 7:51 am

Community leaders and citizens concerned about the future of Fort Wayne banded together to show support for a statewide initiative proposed by Gov. Mike Pence that could jump-start quality of life programs like riverfront development and trail development.

The Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, Greater Fort Wayne Inc. and Wunderkammer Company partnered for an educational call-to-action meeting from 5:30 to 7 p.m. on Wednesday at Wunderkammer, 3402 Fairfield Ave. At the meeting, people were able to learn more about the Regional Cities initiative and write letters to legislators supporting increased funding for the program.

With the hearing today at the Statehouse, proposed House Bill 1403 would support community efforts by encouraging growth through collaboration and public-private partnerships. The governors budget proposed $84 million for the initiative over the next two years, allowing regions to compete for matching grants and loans. However, the House approved a version of the budget that reduces funding for the Regional Cities Initiative to only $20 million over the next two years, but money could be restored before the final two-year budget plan is approved next month.

Both Mayor Tom Henry and John Urbahns, executive vice president of economic development at Greater Fort Wayne, will be testifying at the hearing to encourage legislators to restore funding.

Whitney Cleveland, an elementary school art teacher, attended the event to contact her legislators and to show support for the program.

Cleveland believes increasing community art through quality of life development programs can help kids get out of the classroom and into the community.

“I feel like teachers and their students would benefit from having more access to art,” Cleveland said. “It's a shame that students don't have more art.”

One key to economic success is making sure northeast Indiana is known as a great place to live.

Courtney Tritch, the director of marketing for the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, said today young people decide where they want to live before deciding where they want to work.

“That's an issue because, right now in Indiana, we have a population stagnation issue,” Tritch said. “We are not generating the amount of talent coming into the state to support and grow our economy. In the long run, we will not be able to attract new business.”

And to attract new talent, Regional Cities Initiative supporters say northeast Indiana needs to be a cool and thriving place. To achieve that, Tritch said the region needs to put money into development projects.

Luckily, the region is already on the right track.

“You know what the great news is?” Tritch said. “We have an advantage in northeast Indiana. We have a great track record of doing amazing large-scale projects like this, and getting it done. We've seen this done in our community. We have great quality of place assets that we can build off of in all our 10 counties.”

Fort Wayne Deputy Mayor Karl Bandemer serves on the advisory committee for the Regional Cities initiative. He said to make money, often a region has to spend money.

“Legislators need to understand there's no free lunch, and it takes money in order to bring these types of enhancements and venues to the community, and we have to pay for it,” Bandemer said. “The legislators at the state level and local level need to know the community is behind these efforts to rise the quality of life in our community. Hopefully it will get funded and at the original amount.”