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Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Mayor Tom Henry speaks Monday before the Rotary Club of Downtown Fort Wayne. He outlined the city’s progress and told of efforts to attract jobs.

Mayor tells Rotary of city’s growing allure

Downtown Fort Wayne has become not only a workplace destination, but a place where people want to live and play, Mayor Tom Henry told the Rotary Club of Downtown Fort Wayne on Monday.

The annual Rotary speech is a prelude to Henry’s State of the City address which will take place next month at Grand Wayne Center, said John Perlich, spokesman for the mayor’s office.

Henry cited successful examples of downtown living such as the Harrison Square and Anthony Wayne Building projects which include new condominiums, retail space and offices.

As far as play, the new Parkview Field ball stadium attracts 400,000 people a year to baseball games and other events, he said.

Henry broke down his role as mayor to three primary functions.

“Those three things include economic development, financial responsibility and improving the quality of life for all residents,” the mayor said.

He expanded on the progress the city had made in all three areas, saying more exciting development is in store for Fort Wayne.

A new $72 million downtown project that includes a new national headquarters for Ash Brokerage and a residential development led by Hanning & Bean Enterprises leads the list, Henry said.

The mayor also outlined some deals still in the works, including new development and housing to the east of Parkview Field, where the city has already bought and razed a number of homes.

Three major developers are considering the site to build brownstones – terraced homes or row houses made of brown sandstone, Henry said.

The homes would face Ewing Street on one side and Fairfield Avenue on the other. Both streets will be returned to two-way, he said.

Another housing project – the Randall Lofts Project at Pearl and Harrison streets – will offer housing for middle- and lower-income individuals in hopes of attracting recent college graduates, Henry said.

“We are working hard to attract jobs and to maintain an environment that attracts people,” he said.

The city is also working with the University of Saint Francis to help develop a downtown campus that would attract 300 to 500 students daily, Henry said.

Economic development includes bringing in new business as well as retaining established businesses and helping them expand, if necessary, he said.

The city saw the emergence of four new companies in the past year that supplied 900 new jobs, Henry said. “In addition, 29 companies decided to stay and grow here, saving 4,300 jobs.”

“About 1,100 good-paying jobs with good benefits were saved when General Electric decided to stay,” he said.

The city invested $100 million in economic development last year, with the biggest focus on the downtown area, Henry said.

“Cities can no longer afford to pay 100 percent of anything,” Henry said. “It takes a partnership.”

The city contributed $20 million to the new Ash Brokerage project and the rest of the investment – $52 million – is private dollars, he said.

When addressing the quality of life in Fort Wayne, Henry touched on the city’s high number of homicides in 2013 – the 44 declared matched the record set in 1997.

Henry said the homicides and drug activity are among components that were “putting us in harm’s way.”

Henry said he and his staff continue to work on a solution.

In the meantime, the police department will hire 30 new officers and Henry has restored the position of public safety director, which was eliminated in 2000, naming former police chief Rusty York to the post.

Henry drew laughter when noting that the city will spend $24 million this year improving infrastucture.

“That means there will be a lot of orange (traffic) cones and you will get upset,” he said. “but don’t call me – call your City Council representative.”