A decade ago, Fort Wayne’s sleepy downtown got a wake-up call from an unlikely source. The Allen County Public Library’s $65 million renovation and expansion project soundly silenced a handful of critics and convinced everyone else of the central city’s attraction. As the library prepares for a leadership transition, Director Jeff Krull’s quiet role in spurring downtown revitalization deserves attention.
We’ve noted it before, particularly when The Journal Gazette named Krull its Citizen of the Year in 2007. Since then, the domino effect of the downtown library project has only continued: Parkview Field, the Harrison, a new downtown hotel, new senior housing, Citizens Square, the Citilink bus terminal, the Arts United Center, new restaurants and night life. Still to come: the massive Ash Brokerage project, residential redevelopment, new life on Columbia Street’s Landing and more.
There are plenty of moving parts to downtown’s renaissance, but Krull’s contribution is undeniable. He revealed the potential – and the library and city are the better for it. Allen County residents should take care to preserve the treasure he leaves in a first-rate library system and the model he set for creating projects acceptable to prudent taxpayers and visionary enough to stretch their expectations.
As he steps down after 40 years serving public libraries – 28 years leading ACPL – Krull leaves an example of how a library system can serve diverse and changing community needs, with branch locations ideal for their small-town locations or their suburban neighborhoods. Its branches and main location offer the first-rate services library patrons expect, but also offer gathering places and idea spaces.
“He’s been willing to stretch and take the library in places it needed to go,” said Bill Brown, president of the Downtown Improvement District. He cites Krull’s role in the Rock the Plaza concerts, TekVenture and more.
“I appreciate the mere fact that his interest in casting this high-quality vision has given us an art gallery, the Paul Clarke Center and so much more,” Brown said. “I think he is just a believer in the idea that pushing a little will make others do their part.”
Indeed, the library director is a willing partner with community nonprofits and organizations, offering up the library’s resources in ways that go far beyond books. At the same time, he’s been a champion of the library’s traditional role, quietly protecting its place as caretaker for thousands of volumes vital to community information, enlightenment and entertainment.
The Allen County Public Library board named Greta Southard, director of the Boone County Public Library in Burlington, Kentucky, to succeed him on Sept. 1. Her former post as executive director of the Public Library Association bodes well for maintaining Krull’s commitment to those ideals, as well as his firm grasp of issues facing public libraries today.
The real challenge, however, will be to follow Krull’s well-tuned instincts. He recognized not only what residents wanted from their libraries, but also those things they never imagined their libraries could do. It is much appreciated.