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Block parties embrace former Mayor Baals

Baals

– Nonprofit group A Better Fort is scratching the city’s itch for downtown block parties.

And this time, they’re naming the concerts after one of Fort Wayne’s most visionary leaders, Harry Baals.

Naturally, there will be a pair of BAALS events.

The events started in 2012 when A Better Fort shut down Calhoun Street between Wayne and Berry for #House4House on the opening night of the Three Rivers Festival and raised money for local charity Mad Anthonys Children’s Hope House. The event drew 2,000 people, and last year’s event drew 3,000. Together, they raised $10,000.

Now, organizers want to take it to the next level by drawing on the popularity of Harry Baals, doubling down on the number of concerts and naming them #BAALS.

“The objective is to take negative stereotypes and rhetoric, poke fun at them and embrace them, as something of the past and make it clear that this is a new day for Fort Wayne,” organizers said in their news release. “And to show the world that this city, in fact, has #BAALS.”

Baals – pronounced “balls” by the then-mayor but “bales” by some descendents – was elected Fort Wayne mayor in 1934 and won three successive terms. He returned to politics in 1951 by winning a fourth term but died in office in May 1954. His accomplishments include elevating the railroads in town and negotiating the contract with the Army to establish Baer Field as an air base.

He already is commemorated with a plaque on Calhoun Street under a railroad overpass and with H.W. Baals Drive through Johnny Appleseed Park.

Baals was the talk of the town – and the nation – in 2011 when an Internet poll drew nearly 24,000 votes to name the new city-county government building The Harry Baals Government Center. Officials snipped that idea, though, and named it Citizens Square, a name that drew only five votes.

A Better Fort co-founder Alex Smith said there’s a certain logic to embracing stereotypes instead of pushing back or ignoring them, like when Fort Wayne was named the “dumbest city.”

“You can take the negative rhetoric and the different ‘awards’ we’ve received and turn them around,” Smith said.

Part of that thought is a younger generation stepping up to do things its own way.

“To our generation, things like the downtown ballpark, that’s a no-brainer,” Smith, 27, said. As a business owner, he said, the only way to recruit the employees with the qualifications he needs is to have a thriving downtown and quality of life. “I used to joke around that the talent’s going to go where the beer is.”

The first block party of the pair of #BAALS events is July 11 in the 800 block of South Calhoun Street. The second block party is Aug. 1 on The Landing.

Organizers say both block parties will feature the best of what downtown Fort Wayne has to offer and that they plan to grow the #BAALS series until it is a signature event that attracts tourists nationwide.

A Better Fort (www.abetterfort.org) works to provide positive life experiences that make a difference in the lives of youth through community empowerment.

dstockman@jg.net

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