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Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
This Taylor Street eyesore will be gone in a few months.

City’s man of steel

The tendency is to judge a community by what’s bright-and-shiny new. For instance, there is justified excitement about the Ash Brokerage/Hanning & Bean retail and residential project announced last fall. Few would doubt that the ambitious structures the developers are planning will beautify and enhance Fort Wayne’s downtown.

It’s important not to forget, though, that a community’s health also depends on its ability to renovate older buildings, reinvigorate older businesses and eliminate buildings no longer useful.

Jerry Henry, the local investor/entrepreneur/industrialist, continually finds ways to make that kind of work possible and even profitable. He has a knack for success at buying or offering support to struggling companies, and he works similar magic on troubled buildings. Henry reimagined such key sites as the Falstaff Brewery and the Fruehauf plant.

When Neighborhood Health Clinics Inc. needed a new location, Henry converted an abandoned commercial laundry into a site for community health care. He refurbished a home more than 100 years old on Berry Street for United Way’s headquarters.

Now Henry, older brother of Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry, has brought his experience with steel and scrap metals to bear on the problem of what to do about a major community eyesore on Taylor Street. This week, he will begin tearing down a teetering old steel-melt shop owned but no longer used by Valbruna Slater Stainless Inc.

The operation, Henry told The Journal Gazette’s Frank Gray, will be at no cost to Valbruna. In fact, he plans to give the company a share of the money he gets for selling the metal to Steel Dynamics.

Businesses and residents have complained about the empty building for years; Henry says the structure might have been in danger of collapsing.

It’s an ingenious plan that should leave everyone directly involved better off.

Sometimes a community moves forward by leaving something behind.