Construction cranes dot the skyline, earthmovers seem to be everywhere, and it’s hard to avoid orange barrels. They’re all signs of the progress that’s taken place since the first pitch was thrown out at Parkview Field twelve years ago.
“There’s no question the ballpark served as a catalyst for additional development downtown. There was a significant percentage of our community that was opposed to the ballpark being downtown, but once it was built, I think people began to see that this could cause a real snowball effect for the rest of downtown. That’s exactly what happened,” says Mayor Tom Henry.
The rebirth of downtown has been slow and steady, with plenty of speedbumps along the way. The intent all along, say city leaders, was to create a place where people want to live, work, and play. The revitalization has attracted new businesses like The Bradley, a boutique hotel, to open in Fort Wayne.
“I knew where downtown was headed. We’re near the Riverfront and near The Landing, and I think it’s a perfect location,” says Barbara Bradley Baekgaard, who worked with Provenance Hotels to design The Bradley. “You can walk anywhere, and I think we needed that downtown.”
It’s also prompted existing businesses like STAR Financial Bank to move their headquarters downtown.
“All you have to do is take a walk around downtown, and you can feel the buzz and energy. It is truly an honor to be able to invest in our STAR employees and this community. This investment signifies our dedication and commitment to being a family-owned and operated community bank serving the Hoosier state for many years to come,” says Kristin Marcuccilli, chief operating officer at STAR Bank.
“We want this facility to be as much a community building as a bank building, and we cannot wait to invite our downtown neighbors, customers and friends to enjoy rooftop terrace views of our great city.”
Steve Zacher, whose commercial real estate company is involved in the Electric Works project, says he’s seen big changes in his 35-year career. “A vibrant downtown is just fundamental to having a vibrant community,” he says. “Businesses like Do It Best and STAR didn’t have to stay in Fort Wayne, but they chose to, which is good for all of us.”
With more people now living downtown, Zacher says the success of Skyline Apartments, CityScapes and The Randall Lofts bodes well for the future. Mixed-use projects like The Landing have breathed new life into areas of downtown that had been neglected or overlooked. Current construction of The Lofts at Headwaters Park, on Clinton and Superior Streets, and The Riverfront at Promenade Park, just east of Promenade Park at Superior and Harrison Streets, will continue that trend. The six-story buildings will be home to apartments, townhouses, retail, commercial, office space and parking.
Many projects in recent years are the result of investments from both private developers and the city. Leaders say those partnerships and collaboration are essential and that when everyone has some “skin in the game,” they’re more likely to be successful.
“The real difference is when we first started this initiative a decade or so ago, we went out and tried to get people to come here. Now they’re coming here by themselves, asking us to partner with them,” says Mayor Henry. “What a significant difference that has made in the morale of our community. We really believe that Fort Wayne is truly something to be very proud of.”
The growth isn’t just limited to downtown. Electric Works is located several blocks south of downtown on Broadway and the North River property is on the north side of the St. Marys River on Clinton Street. Plans are underway for that 30 acres to become a $150 million dollar soccer and entertainment complex that could include a hotel and restaurant.
“All of that is a continuation of what we originally hoped for and that was to create an environment where people would want to live, work, and play and I think we’re beginning to get there,” reiterates Henry. “That’s the reason that over the past 10 years we’ve invested about a billion dollars in downtown. With our partnerships, probably close to half of it is public money. Look at what’s come about as a result of that. We don’t want to stop that momentum.”