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Tear down garage, gain more options downtown


There's a great opportunity for future development in our downtown. It's staring us right in the face, but it's one we just drive by and never really “see.”

It takes up an entire city block in the heart of downtown. It's publicly owned property.

No. It's not the Rousseau Centre or Citizens Square; surely not the Allen County Courthouse.

But, it's nearby.

If you're scratching your head wondering where or what I'm talking about, don't' give up. It's a really big building. It's bounded by Washington, Jefferson, Calhoun and Clinton.

You've been driving around it for decades. You may even have used it going to occasions at the Grand Wayne Center and Embassy Theatre.

Yes! You got it. It's the city's downtown parking garage.

Now, let's imagine we've torn down the “invisible” building.

We'll start over. Our complete control of this premier site gives us a clear path to plan redevelopment of a key piece of real estate.

Our downtown is comparatively small. But, the demand for new stores, services, entertainment and hotel space is growing non-stop. This key block is ideal for bringing together the conveniences people are asking for in our downtown.

The garage alone occupies 95 percent of the structure; it's often empty after 5 and on weekends.

I've been asking myself: Does this parking garage, as is, comprise the highest and best use of this land?

My answer is “no.”

It's time to start thinking about new mixed uses in a new signature building that can still accommodate all current and future parking needs.

After more than a decade of downtown planning, great results can be seen in Harrison Square and the new Ash/Bean project under construction. Redeveloping the city parking garage site is a continuation of the “next level” thinking so many have been counting on.

The city, Downtown Improvement District, Greater Fort Wayne Inc., Young Leaders of Northern Indiana and local foundations are the natural front lines to advance this unique opportunity.

The garage is one building that can be torn down without any great loss to downtown during construction. But, when it rises again with shops and nightlife, it will be cheered as one more building “block” in revitalizing downtown Fort Wayne.

Take a drive around the block and open your eyes to the possibility.

Tom Smith is a Fort Wayne city councilman. He wrote this for The Journal Gazette.