FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — Greater Fort Wayne held its Economic Development Summit at the Parkview Mirro Center for Research and Innovation on Wednesday. Of the many topics presented or discussed, one was the future of Fort Wayne’s riverfront development.
A panel — moderated by Greater Fort Wayne’s Chief Economic Development Officer Ellen Cutter — included the city of Fort Wayne’s Community Development Director, Nancy Townsend.
Both spoke with WANE 15 prior to the panel.
Townsend said the main points of the presentation would be what’s yet to be completed in Riverfront Phase II.
She listed many things that have previously been announced such as continued work on a tree-top canopy trail with the addition of more swings, more public spaces, a boulder mound for kids to climb on, and a hammock grove.
There’s also private development secured along the riverfront. The Schaab Metals building will be revitalized, and a new brewery is coming to the south end of the North River Property, near the Martin Luther King Jr. bridge.
The question is: what comes next?
Townsend said their main focus right now is the completion of Phase II and all of those projects. At the same time, they will look ahead to Phase III. Mainly, they’re looking for more private investors.
Townsend said the city controls 50 acres of land that they want to partner with private developers on adjacent to where phases I (Promenade Park) and II are being completed along the St Marys River.
There’s certainly hope for more restaurants as well as indoor and outdoor entertainment spaces, but according to Townsend the key to getting those types of developments will be more residential projects.
“The thing that’s been most important is rooftops. People. We have to have people 18 to 24 hours a day in this space,” Townsend said. “That’s what’s going to draw restaurants. That’s what will bring, ultimately one day, a grocery, are rooftops.”
She said city leaders can certainly see more mixed-use buildings with apartments on the upper level and retail spaces below, but they’re also looking for other types of properties.
Townsend told WANE 15 that there’s a possibility that townhomes, condominiums and maybe even single-family homes could be developed.
Both Townsend and Cutter said that they look to other cities with developed riverfronts and that there’s a lot of interest in bars, restaurants and entertainment spaces, but you also need a spot for people to live close to those amenities.
“We want to see developments that add to the vibrancy of the community and our overall economy,” Cutter explained. “We definitely have heard loud and clear that there’s opportunities [on the riverfront] for tourism, more entertainment opportunities and then in the midst of that we’ve got a demand, continuing demand, for downtown residential.”
Townsend added that when things are all said and done, they hope to have brought a billion dollars worth of private development to the riverfront. Phase I’s success already brought close to $300 million, she said.
All of that development downtown is expected to strengthen Fort Wayne’s economy.
“What it’s already done is it keeps our tax rates low,” Townsend said. “Our local income tax revenue has gone up every year. Our property tax revenue has gone up every year, but our rates have stayed the same and that’s because of all the investment we’re getting.”
She pointed specifically to downtown properties where older buildings have been refurbished and given new life, rather than building new, as to why the tax rates have been able to stay the same.
All of the studies they’ve done on housing and the economy, according to Townsend and Cutter, have shown that downtown development is the way to go.
“GFW surveyed our business community a few years ago and 90% indicated that the revitalization of downtown is the number one community attribute helping them to attract and retain the talent they need. So, riverfront development is not only great to enjoy for quality of life, but it’s imperative for our economic future,” Cutter added.
Again, the current focus is finishing the work being done on Phase II, but Townsend said the time and resources that need to go into Phase III will ultimately result in more development along the riverfront, even if it takes some time to come together.