Make no small dreams, Goethe wrote, for they have no power to move the hearts of men.
To which we would add, or women. Or prospective tenants at the $71 million commercial/retail/residential development announced last week.
The project Mayor Tom Henry unveiled will occupy a block in the heart of the city. Ash Brokerage will invest $19.6 million in the commercial/retail side, moving its operations from West Jefferson Boulevard. The investment firm Hanning and Bean Enterprises Inc. of Fort Wayne will spend $32 million on the residential development, and the city will add $19.5 million worth of land, construction and tax incentives.
As impressive as the project seems, economic planners say the most important point is what it says about Fort Waynes future.
I think its a huge sign of confidence in the market, said Ellen Cutter, director of the Community Research Institute at IPFW.
Longtime city and county planner John Stafford, now a CRI special consultant, agreed.
First, he said, it means retaining a significant employer in the community. Second, theres the residential component: The revitalization of the community depends a great deal on people being back downtown on a 24/7 basis. Replacing nearly a block of surface parking area with businesses and residences upgrades the city as well, Stafford noted.
Urban living is coming back, said John Urbahns, Fort Waynes director of community development. A local study done in 2010 with a five-year outlook showed hundreds of new downtown housing units could be filled each year.
Before, he said, we didnt have a lot of different types of housing downtown. You could restore an old home in West Central or have an apartment at Three Rivers.
Since 2010, Urbahns continued, we have had 130 housing units built, including the Anthony Wayne building and Harrison projects.
For Bill Bean, vice president of Hanning & Bean, and Tim Ash, president and CEO of Ash Brokerage, commitment to the construction plan was both a business decision and statement of faith.
Bean is planning to build 80 one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments, 14 to 20 condominiums and six brownstones. And there will be an expansive parking garage.
Its a very green project, Bean said, utilizing energy-efficient technology and reserving the garages top floor for trees and greenery.
The move back to city centers is a nationwide phenomenon. Other cities, including Indianapolis, are already validating the theory that if there are more of the amenities of life downtown, more people will want to live there.
And vice versa: If there are more people living downtown, the larger customer base will draw new businesses and then, new waves of residents.
Downtowns are definitely coming back, Cutter says, partly because the millennial generation prefers to live and work and play in the same place.
Thus, the existence of the brokerage and the residences should nurture the retail side. Or, as Bean put it, were both the chicken and the egg.
The even larger chicken and egg, though, is the possibility that Ashs and Beans multimillion-dollar commitment will attract other big-dreaming developers to Fort Waynes core.
You have to demonstrate success, Stafford said. Then others are more inclined to follow.
In the end, its about big dreams. As Bean said, We need to stop thinking of this as a small town.