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Thursday, December 7, 2006

From the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel
Your Neighbor: A column by Norma Hoeppner
Bring back a once-bustling block of Broadway
Norma Hoeppner is the president of ARCH, a local non-profit organization working to preserve historic architecture.
Her article is about revitalizing a stretch of Broadway "due to the importance of this area to the future of downtown." She wants us to imagine was this block could become based on what this corridor once was.
I love learning local history, and I love when historic structures are preserved and used for educational purposes, like our history center, or as functional buildings, like the new downtown Starbucks.
I don't love it when people try to plan for a thriving future by trying to recreate the thriving past.
Ft. Wayne is fixated on reviving downtown, and getting ready to throw a bunch of money at it, and I can't help but wonder: will it be worth it?
In 1950, downtowns were the center of entertainment, commerce, and business. People went downtown to work, to go to the movies, to shop.
In 2006, habits have changed. Entertainment, commerce, and business are spread out. Malls and shopping centers have replaced downtowns. Visit Jefferson Pointe on a Friday music evening in summer and witness it yourself. It's packed. Then go downtown -- empty.
So what the downtown revitalization is trying to do is this: totally change the way people act in 2006 -- convince them to act as people did 50 0r 100 years ago.
How much investment in time AND money is that going to take? I can't even imagine. And I'm not sure WHY it has to be. Why can't a downtown be the place for business in a town ... and have entertainment and shopping elsewhere? Why not think up a new solution to tie the places together, and put our money there, instead of trying to reinvent a way of life that has passed?
Let's face it: Ft. Wayne's downtown is pretty nondescript. Any character it once had now exists only in the imaginations of the folks who remember it from 50 years ago. It is really in our best interest to try to "buy our way" into some character for it? With no guarantees that people will change the way we now live?
Instead of looking to the past -- and to the marginal draw a new stadium for a low-A, minor league baseball team might have -- let's look at Ft. Wayne IN ITS ENTIRETY, to where people are going NOW, for answers. To year-round, steady, dependable attractions.
What's drawing people now? Shopping and young peoples' sports events. The occasional big convention, or festival. Jefferson Pointe. Glenbrook Square. Spiece Fieldhouse. Between the Lines baseball tournaments. Soccer at The Plex. The Zoo. Golden Wingers. Three Rivers Festival. Stuff that doesn't always make the news, but brings families and dollars into the area, all year 'round.
What I suggest: put some money into a trolley system that gets people from venue to hotel to shopping to restaurants cheap and quick. Instead of sinking money into a redundant baseball stadium, sink it into a really cool aquarium (yea, put it downtown!) and convince private investors to building an indoor/outdoor water park/hotel complex. Market ourselves as what we are: a family-friendly, shopping, kids' attraction kind of place, and make it easy for our visitors (and residents) to get from one venue to the other.
Let's build a new Fort Wayne by respecting the past, no recreating it!

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