FORT WAYNE – Whether you prefer long walks along the riverfront, piña coladas at an outdoor café or riverside yoga, city officials want to hear from you.
For decades, people in Fort Wayne have said something should be done with the downtown riverfront, but no one has ever known what to do, how to do it or whether it should be done.
Several studies have been done of downtown, and they reinforced the idea that the city’s riverfront could be a huge opportunity – but none looked at what the opportunity might be.
Now, thanks to the Legacy Fund – money from the lease and sale of the city’s old electric utility – a $500,000 study is underway to lay out a road map for riverfront development.
And officials from SWA Group, the California-based firm leading the study, want your input on what Fort Wayne’s riverfront should be.
They’ve really been trying to get under our skin and find out who we are as a community, said Pam Holocher, the city’s deputy director of community development. They really want to make it something authentic for our culture.
In addition to market and development studies, SWA Group will examine environmental issues, flooding, navigation and recreation uses and will perform a complete hydrology study.
The issues are many: Not only do the rivers flood in some areas, but other areas are protected by large, expensive levies that may make development impossible. There is a mix of city-owned parkland and privately owned businesses. There are swampy areas and busy streets, industrial areas and spots that could be contaminated.
Work began in November and is expected to take almost a year to finish.
The public sessions are set for Wednesday and Thursday at the Allen County Public Library. So what will happen at the sessions?
One portion will include a visual preference survey, Holocher said, where officials will show different designs and different ideas to see what people like.
It will be, Do you like this? Or do you prefer this?’ she said. You will be asked to respond to a lot of things.
Holocher said she hasn’t heard of any major challenges found so far, but the number of ideas seems overwhelming.
I’ve heard a plethora of ideas, from different activities to different districts within the area, to entertainment venues to neighborhood enhancements, she said. There’s so many different pieces to consider.
One thing SWA Group is known for is matching its projects to the character of the location, whether it is the desert of United Arab Emirates or downtown Salt Lake City, and the city’s Mary Tyndall said officials are already working to match their ideas to Fort Wayne.
It’s about creating an identity for the community so that when people think of us, they think of the rivers, Tyndall said.
Officials also want the riverfront to represent the heart of northeast Indiana, not just Fort Wayne.
It should have a regional draw and be a place that can be enjoyed by everybody, Holocher said. This is everybody’s riverfront. This is everybody’s project.
Once the study is complete, city officials hope it will provide a blueprint for transforming the riverfront from a largely neglected area into a community jewel, and Holocher said it is unlikely the study will simply sit on the shelf. She points out that while the city does do a lot of studies, those studies are also put to use, such as the Downtown Blueprint and its update Blueprint Plus, the bike plan, the Walk Fort Wayne plan and others.
A lot of communities, they just dream of this stuff, Holocher said. They have plans and dream of implementation.