A few weeks after the city revealed the result of a study examining riverfront development, the Young Leaders of Northeast Indiana publicized its own survey.
And it found much the same thing – residents of Fort Wayne and the surrounding areas want recreational spaces and natural spaces along the city’s waterways.
But the younger the survey participants, the more they wanted nightlife-type development, such as theaters. Those over 40 were more likely to want retail space, while those surveyed between the ages of 20 and 30 wanted entertainment, according to the executive summary of the survey.
Using its own mailing list, as well as partnering with the Millennial Leadership Alliance, YLNI sent the surveys to about 28 ZIP codes in the area. They received 277 responses, according to the summary.
YLNI is an all-volunteer organization focused on community and personal development, as well as volunteering.
The Millennial Leadership Alliance is an arm of the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, made of people between the ages of 15 and 25, according to their website.
None of the results surprised YLNI leadership, said Jake Pickett, vice president of communication for YLNI.
“We really wanted to provide a voice and keep people engaged,” Pickett said. “We wanted to be proactive and engage our demographic.”
YLNI’s survey focused on use, parks and open space, transportation, housing and financing.
The participants in the survey agreed nearly unanimously on one thing: the need to clean up the rivers, with 233 respondents listing “water quality” as a concern that should be addressed as the projects move forward, and 199 picking “pollution” as a problem.
“Until it gets cleaned up and becomes a more attractive place to be, people aren’t going to want to come there,” Pickett said. “The Deck (restaurant) is a very popular place, but if you look down, the river is not in very good shape.”
Kelly Lynch, director of Lynchpin Creative and communications director for the Railroad Historical Society, has been concerned about downtown and riverfront development for some time.
The Railroad Historical Society has a proposed component of development in the Headwaters Park area.
While not directly involved in the YLNI survey, Lynch said the spate of studies and surveys are showing what everyone already knew to be true: Riverfront development would be a benefit to the entire region.
And those in charge want to make sure it’s “all hands on deck” moving forward, Lynch said.
It must be done in a way that is inclusive, Lynch said, to keep at bay the tensions and fighting like those over Parkview Field when it was in its infancy. Now, he said, it’s clear the field turned out to be the right thing to do, putting the city in the place it’s in to have these conversations about the river.
But it wasn’t pretty getting there, he said.
Pickett said he hopes YLNI can continue to have a viable voice in the development of the city’s waterways.
“We’ll continue as proposals start rolling in,” he said. “We want to keep this group engaged.”