Riverfront ideas? Get downtown

April 1st, 2014

News Coverage:

Published: April 1, 2014 3:00 a.m.

Riverfront ideas? Get downtown

At new storefront office, city experts ready to listen

Dan Stockman | The Journal Gazette

FORT WAYNE – If you missed the recent meetings with the consultants studying Fort Wayne’s downtown riverfront, you now have the rest of the year to say what you think.

Mayor Tom Henry on Monday opened the Envision Fort Wayne Center, a downtown storefront meant to gather citizen input on riverfront development.

With renovations, rent, utilities and furniture paid for by a Knight Foundation grant, the center will be staffed by city officials three days a week, with additional hours added during downtown festivals and events.

Officials want to hear from citizens what they envision for the downtown riverfront. That input will be part of the $500,000 study of riverfront development currently underway.

“This is really on the cutting edge of what cities are doing to get the suggestions and concerns of the citizens,” Henry said. “We want our citizens to come in and talk to us about the riverfront and how we can make our rivers an asset to the city.”

For decades, people in Fort Wayne have said something should be done with the downtown riverfront, but no one has ever known what to do, how to do it or whether it can be done in an area prone to flooding.

In addition, several studies have been done of downtown, and they reinforced the idea that the city’s riverfront could be a huge opportunity – but none looked at what the opportunities might be. Now, thanks to the Legacy Fund – money from the lease and sale of the city’s old electric utility – a $500,000 study is underway to lay out a road map for riverfront development.

Officials from SWA Group, the California firm leading the study, were in Fort Wayne recently to hold public input sessions, but that effort now has a semipermanent home in the Envision Fort Wayne Center.

The center, at 916 S. Calhoun St., across from One Summit Square, is open 2 to 6 p.m. Tuesdays, and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays.

“There aren’t too many cities that have this,” Henry said. “It really is a brand new way of connecting with citizens and making their ideas part of the city.”

The center will be staffed by city officials, including engineers, urban planners and architects, who will not only listen to ideas on what the riverfront should be, but will also be able to talk about the history of the riverfront, the challenges posed by flooding and environmental concerns, and successful riverfronts in other cities. The walls of the center are covered with information about all those topics.

“You’ll get to see the concepts as they’re developed,” said Pam Holocher, deputy director of planning and policy for the city.

Once SWA Group’s study is complete – about a year from now – city officials hope it will provide a blueprint for transforming the riverfront from a largely neglected area into a community jewel, and officials have said it is unlikely the study will simply sit on the shelf.

They point out that while the city does do a lot of studies, those studies are also put to use, such as the Downtown Blueprint and its update Blueprint Plus, the bike plan, the Walk Fort Wayne plan and others.

Officials said citizens are welcome to stop into the Envision Fort Wayne Center any time it is open or to schedule time for a group visit by emailing RiverfrontFW@cityoffortwayne.org. You can also learn more and give input on the study website at www.riverfrontfw.org.