FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – The completion of Promenade Park marks the beginning of something new, not the end of development of the Summit City’s riverfront. The next phase of Riverfront Fort Wayne’s mission is merely jump-started by the new park.
“Promenade Park is the beginning of creating a new neighborhood that is part of downtown,” In an exclusive interview along the Saint Marys River, Community Development Planner Paul Spoelhof talked to WANE 15 about the big picture of riverfront development. “The park is wonderful, but it’s not the only thing we’re doing. We’re creating the next phase of downtown Fort Wayne. Very few communities have this opportunity to imagine their next phase of their downtown.”
When city leaders rolled out the idea of redeveloping the areas along the Saint Marys River, it was pitched as a long-term idea. A public park would serve as a centerpiece as private developers were attracted to the area to build commercial and residential buildings and attractions.
“We are using that park in conversations every day with developers,” Spoelhof explained. “The love the fact that we have a plan. They know what’s going to happen in the future. They don’t have to guess. They don’t have to guard against things they don’t want. They know that we’re going to bring them the things they do want and will make their businesses thrive.”
A new attitude has been established when it comes to attracting private investors to the riverfront area, breaking from the status quo of looking at what is typical in the Midwest.
“We’re examining the market from a national perspective and national trends,” Spoelhof added. “We have conversations with these developers who do these big deals. Having the market data, having images of Promenade Park, having plans for how this area is going to develop is part of that conversation with developers who are looking for places to invest their money in and create these mixed use developments and energetic, vibrant downtown spaces.”
The so-called ‘Phase II’ and ‘Phase III‘ are focusing on that private investment as well as public-funded improvements in the area beyond Promenade Park, along the Saint Marys.
“There is a tremendous number of great opportunities [near the river], but we’re focusing on a couple of sites on the north side of the river, also places along Superior, where development prospects are,” Spoelhof said. “We’re working on defining what will go in there. What is the mix of uses, residential, retail, restaurants… that’s what’s next from the neighborhood standpoint.”
In addition to the development surrounding Promenade Park, there is attention devoted to public spaces along the river. Phase II stretches from the Ewing Street Bridge to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Bridge, while Phase III grows that area to the west to include Bloomingdale Park and Guldlin park. City planners are looking at how the banks of the river in those areas can be improved, both to attract people and handle the river.
Building on the vision
DAVID RUBIN Land Collective, a Philadelphia-based landscape architecture and urban design studio, was picked by Fort Wayne Community Development to lead the charge in the second and third phases of riverfront development.
“This is the start of an extraodinary process, building upon the successes Fort Wayne has recognized already,” David Rubin told WANE 15 after the announcement was made.
DAVID RUBIN Land Collective will oversee a group of landscape architects, building architects, urban designers, engineers and economists charged with developing the riverfront area.
Funded through a small increase in income tax in 2017, the group is focused on creating a master plan for the next phases of development.
“We know that we can serve the citizenry of Fort Wayne well, give them an opportunity to, in the breadth of their representation, establish an equitable engagement in the river,” Rubin added.
Cooking up something old, something new
An example of private investment spurred by the construction of Promenade Park is the future Don Hall’s restaurant at the southeast corner of Superior and Harrison Streets.
Once surrounded by more modern commercial buildings, the brick Cambray building was the last remaining structure on the property that became the park. Bud Hall told WANE 15 his love for old buildings drove him to step in and save it.
The building was lifted from the ground, moved across Harrison Street then later across Superior Street to its final position. The land it was moved to was a parking lot owned by Allen County. The county was given spaces in the city’s Rouseau Centre parking garage. Completing the land switch, the city gained land along the north side of the Saint Marys, owned by the Hall family.
The building will likely open as a Hall’s restaurant offering food and drinks in the heart of downtown, just blocks away from the family’s Gas House and The Deck. Hall told WANE 15 he’d like to see a patio built along the side of the building with views of Promenade Park.
As the community celebrated the opening of the park, slight changes were visible on the old building. New doors have been installed at both the front and rear of the structure.
No opening date has been set yet for the restaurant.
Planned development fails
One failure has been recorded in the journey to develop the riverfront.
A $62 million project was announced in 2017. The mixed-use development, known as “Hive,” was to rise along Harrison Street between the Saint Marys River and Superior Street, replacing a razed commercial building.
This project initially fit the ideal situation city leaders were looking for in the later phases of riverfront development: private-public investment with commercial and residential space, along with a parking garage.
The deal fell apart, just over a year after the announcement. According to Fort Wayne Redevelopment Commission Executive Director Nancy Townsend, developer Continental Property Group could not meet the requirements made in an agreement made with the city.
Continental responded to the city’s stance saying the move was surprising. The people with the property group claimed they faced several interest rate hikes and a reluctant local financial financing market, despite having the project ready for permitting.
Townsend told WANE 15 that several developers were interested in the space and her department would take requests from any interested group, including Continental.
Time to look north
A big piece of land that will play a big role in the future phases of riverfront development sits to the north of the Saint Marys – the much talked about North River property.
“We’ve been thinking about what’s next after the Promenade Park opens for a couple of years,” Spoelhof said. It has us focused on the district north of the river and expanding downtown north of the river.”
The 30 acres, once home to a rail yard and later, a OmniSource scrap yard, is surrounded by Clinton, Fourth and Harrison Streets and the former YWCA campus. It’s highly visible, sitting along downtown’s main gateway from the the north.
In a controversial move approved by City Council, the City of Fort Wayne bought the land without knowing the full extent of cleanup needed at the property. In July, 2019, the city announced the EPA approved grants for the removal of 2,400 tons of potentially contaminated soils.
At the time of the purchase, city leaders had a goal of flipping the land to a private developer. The list of interested parties has shrunk over time. The land eventually became part of the future phases of development looked at by Land Collective.
Keeping on track
One project that has been a constant since the Riverfront Conceptual Plan was revealed has been Headwaters Junction.
Developed by the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society and Lynchpin Creative, the project is pitched as a “mixed use cultural attraction concept combining river, rail and trail development.”
The face of the project, Kelly Lynch, has been working to keep the concept alive. His latest move has been working with Land Collective to include the development in the future phases, finding a place in the north end of the North River acres.
While drawings and videos have been produced, the project is not yet secured to the point of starting construction.
If completed, Headwaters Junction could bring thousands of people into town to examine railroad history and enjoy other shopping and eating options in the complex. Famed Locomotive no. 765 would serve as a centerpiece to a turn table that would connect to tracks that run to other Summit City destinations.
Park neighbors consider move
One change that appears likely to happen as a result of riverfront development, but has yet to be announced, is the move of Nowak Supply on the south side of the Saint Marys, west of Promenade Park.
More than a year before Promenade Park opened to the public, the company’s C.O.O., Scott Sherman told WANE 15 the 73-year-old company was going through an “exciting transition time.”
The company offers welding, chemical gasses, safety services, jon rentals and balloons, all along Superior Street, between Ewing Street and Promenade Park. City leaders have targeted that area for riverfront development.
The mayor’s office confirmed the city was in talks with the company for a potential move. No deal for the property was made by the time the neighboring park opened.
“[The Nowak] building has some real potential for development along the river,” Mayor Tom Henry told WANE 15.
Sherman said the company supported the riverfront projects and downtown redevelopment, despite not knowing for sure what the improvements could mean for his company.
The Allen County Department of Corrections is housed in a building directly across the street from Promenade Park. Discussions have happened between city and county leaders about a potential move, but no deals have officially been made.
Mission grows away from riverfront
New land along Superior Street will be available for development in the next phases as the Rescue Mission building is emptied out.
Construction continued this week on the new Rescue Mission at the intersection of Washington Blvd. and Lafayette Street. Support beams have been put in place and the elevator shaft has been built for the structure.
The organization is making the move to meet with demand and develop new resources for men who take advantage of the Mission. The move also opens up space near Promenade Park, east of the Superior Street roundabout.
The transition from the current facility to the new building is expected to happen in the summer of 2020.
A spokesperson for Fort Wayne Community Development told WANE 15 the city has been in talks over acquiring the land, but no deal has been made as of mid August.
Finding a balance
Through all of the development discussions, one guiding principle carried through… people need to be able to access the river. It’s the highlight of the community that city leaders are ready to celebrate, even more so than the private business the area could attract.
“Part of the plan is making sure we are intentional about people being able to access the river through or past private development,” Spoelhof explained. “People need to be able to arrive on their canoe and tie their boat and get to the riverfront district. People need to be able to go from the riverfront district after having dinner, come down to the river’s edge. That development all together works to make sure everyone has that invitation to come down to the river and experience that place.”