Hopes for Headwaters Junction continue despite riverfront complications

Local News

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Months after making a deal to take over railroad right-of-way space along the riverfront, the people with Headwaters Junction hold out hope that their dream will become a reality, despite complications along the riverfront.

“We want to create an attraction for the 21st century that looks, feels and is inspired by the history of our city,” explained Kelly Lynch, executive director of the Headwaters Junction Project. “That history is one of swagger, of industry, of connectivity, of class, of romance.”

Earlier this month, the public got its first look at the design plans for the second and third phases of riverfront development. The railroad museum and entertainment complex was not included, despite being a mainstay in riverfront renderings for years.

Renderings show the areas in focus for next phases of riverfront development. Railroad tracks that would connect to Headwaters Junction, if built on the North River property, are not included in the plan.

“Headwaters Junction was thoroughly vetted during the master planning and design stages for Phase 2 and 3,” City Spokesman John Perlich explained in a statement to WANE 15. “No local project received similar attention in terms of research and analysis by the Land Collective team as did the Headwaters Junction proposal.”

Ultimately, the full Headwaters Junction plan as pitched was left out because it doesn’t match with the priorities for public investment along the river, according to the mayor’s office. Those priorities include improved flood control, improved access to public park spaces and private development on the north side of the St. Marys River.

“These priorities are all supported by and reflected in the guiding principles for riverfront development that have emerged over the years through careful planning. These priorities also dovetail neatly with those that informed City Council’s decision to dedicate a portion of local income tax revenue to support continued investment in our rivers.”

Earlier this year, the non-profit group entered into a purchase agreement with Norfolk Southern to take over a railroad right-of-way along the river from Polk Street to the North River property near the Clinton Street bridge.

The Headwaters Junction vision of running a streetcar-type rail system on the old freight train right-of-way clashes with the long-term vision of the riverfront project. Leaders with both the city and Headwaters Junction admit conversations are needed to iron out the details for use of the land.

“The property that Norfolk Southern plans to sell to Headwaters Junction does factor into the schematic designs for Phase 3 and we have been discussing these details with representatives from Headwaters Junction,” the statement from the city goes on to say. “This portion of the Norfolk Southern property currently contains flood walls that are regulated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and which the City will modify in order to create the compensatory storage of flood waters that will facilitate private development along Superior St. The City’s goal is to implement the designs for Phase 2 and 3 with the support of the Headwaters Junction board.”

“We’re keenly engaged with the City of Fort Wayne to identify the right location for Headwaters Junction,” Lynch added. “And to make sure that its potential is not limited by a site that is too far away from all of the energy and excitement that is focused in downtown Fort Wayne.”

While the main building has been envisioned by some to rise on the North River property for the last few years, city leaders have not made a decision that that will be the case. It seems to be just a matter of time though.

After the city purchased the land, Redevelopment Director Nancy Townsend told WANE 15 News that a decision of what to do with the land would not be made until the results of a study of the city’s riverfront are presented to them, which happened on December 5.

The determination of Lynch and those board members continues despite the questions over the riverfront land.

“Just within the last two or three years alone, we’ve been able to raise $2 million, without having a site selected,” Lynch said. “Having a site selected is critical for the next step and we have to be very mindful that wherever the project lands, that its programming, events, reach, impact, its ability to draw in 140-thousand people a year is maintained.”

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