You might look at West Columbia Street and see a couple of tired and quiet blocks of central Fort Wayne. Shane Araujo sees beautiful old buildings at the ideal spot between a thriving downtown and a riverfront poised to take on new life. He sees a grocery, unique shops, restaurants, bars, hip apartments and a nighttime scene to draw crowds worthy of Austin, Nashville and other booming cities.
Araujo knows what it takes to draw crowds. He and some friends threw a block party this month that drew more than 4,500 people to Calhoun Street to listen to local musicians.
As co-founder of A Better Fort, the 27-year-old Fort Wayne native and business owner doesn’t just represent the demographic community leaders want to encourage -- he offers the vision they need in downtown’s next act.
"I see it as the epicenter of entertainment and housing for young people here in Fort Wayne," Araujo said. "So many other cities are doing extremely well with areas like these. These districts can house young people – and I mean people age 18 to 40. They allow people to walk to work, to shops, to grocery stores, to bars and restaurants. That’s really what young people want to do –to live where they work and play."
While the new Ash Brokerage development makes an important contribution to downtown, Columbia Street offers the unique character to distinguish it from cities banking on new construction to thrive. The Landing, as it is commonly known, is the city’s original business district. Its buildings showcase Italianate, Romanesque, neo-classical and Renaissance Revival styles, a priceless architectural collection in a charming pedestrian-friendly package.
The Downtown Development Trust has now bought five properties on West Columbia Street and is securing more buildings. With suggestions from A Better Fort and others, Design Collaborative is creating proposals to transform The Landing into the housing and entertainment center Araujo believes will serve as a draw for young residents.
The new attention focused on West Columbia Street is already drawing interest from A Better Fort, which is considering the location for the summer’s second downtown block party Aug. 1. Araujo said the overflow crowd at the Calhoun Street event has organizers reconsidering. The Landing might not be big enough to accommodate the crowd – just another clue that Fort Wayne’s young residents are eager to embrace downtown.