Cranes and construction signify the change happening downtown. Current and past projects are inspiring developers of future work to get a piece of the action.

“The downtown is the heart of any city,” Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry explained while looking down on the city from the Empyrean, 26 floors above the city. “As potential employers look at communities, they want to see a downtown that’s active and has lots of people and has all sorts of offerings. Whether is sports, theater or restaurants they want to make sure there is a life downtown.” 

Coming to live downtown is the riverfront. NewsChannel 15 walked through the construction area with the mayor to check in on the work,

The pavilion at Promenade Park will host events year round and is now visible to all who pass by. Construction on the north side of the St. Marys River also got underway in the past few weeks. The north side, between Harrison St. and Wells St., includes the tree canopy trail and new dock. 

Plans are also in place for the construction of a new mixed-use development along the riverfront, east of Harrison St.

 “The Parks Department has worked really hard getting the permits, getting the construction companies lined up, putting all the timing together, so there’s been a lot of work going on behind the scenes,” Henry said. “But, if you talk to any of them, it’s also been a lot of fun. To be able to see a river that, for years, was a real detriment to our community that caused millions of dollars in damage and displaced businesses and homes… now to take that and turn it around and make it an asset and a drawing place for people downtown, it’s been a transformation that has been a lot of fun to watch.”

The construction already underway is part of the first phase of developing the riverfront. Planning has already started on Phase Two.

It will focus on private investment, attracting businesses in the area. The mayor expects to see a transformation of Superior Street. 

Discussions have started about moving the offices of Allen County Community Corrections. NewsChannel 15 confirmed a plan is being worked on to find a new home for the services, but no location has yet been secured for a new building. The move would require a combined effort between city and county leaders. 

72-year-old Nowak Supply is also expected to relocate to make way for the riverfront. The owners of that businesses have been in contact with the mayor’s office to find the right deal to make a complicated move as smooth as possible.

“This is probably a seven to ten year project all together, but the nice thing is, we do have a strategic plan in place, a funding plan in place,” Henry added. “Phase One has already been funded. Now we’re looking at the beginning of Pase Two, which isn’t going to take place for a couple of years, but we want to start it now, so we can continue the flow.”

There have been concerns of the quality of the water flowing through the riverfront area. The mayor told NewsChannel 15 billions of gallons of raw sewage was dumped into the river going back to the 1950’s. The massive Deep Rock Tunnel project is expected to eliminate 90% of the river runoff. 

There were also environmental concerns about the North River property. After much debate, the city secured the land and is in the process of finding the right developer.

“We did send out Requests for Qualifications from individuals or companies who might be interested in looking at it,” Henry explained while looking at the 30 acres of empty land. “We did get four responses. We decided to interview all four and each one is bringing something different to the table. It will be a real interesting interview process to see what they want to do, as far as developing these 30 acres.”

Those potential projects could include Headwaters Junction, the entertainment space that surrounds Engine 765 and pays homage to the Summit City’s railroad history. 

I.U. Health leaders are also continuing through the development process, looking to see if new medical facilities would work on that land.

“That psychology of first impressions means so much to a community, so if someone is coming into our city for the first time and they see something wonderful here, as far as an addition to our city, that can do nothing but speak volumes for our investment,” Henry said.

Downtown is at a unique point in the city’s history. Parkview Field was built 10 years ago and gets much credit for spurring the development seen today. The next phase of the riverfront could reach a pinnacle in the 10 years ahead. 

 “I think that cities have to be constantly on the move,” Henry added. “They have to have an evolutionary time of process in place. Cities have to keep moving. Because, in today’s competitive environment, if your city’s not moving you’re going backwards. We have to keep asking for new, innovative, creative ideas, whether it’s a piece of property like this, or Electric Works, which is another massive undertaking we’re looking at, all of that has to be in play. Otherwise, other communities will pass us by.”

The second part of the series of special reports, All Around Downtown: An Inside View, will air Monday, May 7 at 6:00 p.m. It will feature people who live and work downtown.