Urban corridors are poised to play a larger role in downtown Fort Wayne's future

While residents might not currently consider Harrison Street in downtown Fort Wayne to be a key destination, this urban corridor that runs from the banks of the St. Marys River through the Grand Wayne Center is poised to play a larger role in the city's future.

Deputy Director of Redevelopment Nancy Townsend says it's no coincidence that Harrison Street has seen a number of development projects in recent years, including the Ash Brokerage Skyline Plaza, The Harrison, the Courtyard by Marriott, and the new Hampton Inn & Suites by Hilton Fort Wayne nearby.

That's because the south end of the street has been identified as what city planners call a "strong anchor" for future growth as Riverfront Fort Wayne comes to life. It all goes back to the City of Fort Wayne’s vision for the future of downtown in the early 2000's.

In the 2003 “Downtown Blueprint for The Future” report, the city identified the elements of a healthy downtown, including prioritizing its “core areas” of corridors on Harrison Street, Superior Street, Lafayette Street, and Jefferson Boulevard that connect major destinations and capitalize on the potential of the city's three rivers.

As a result, city planners put their focus on Harrison Street and the adjacent blocks of Wayne, Berry, Calhoun and Columbia Streets as a starting place.

“Harrison (Street) emerge(d) as a street (we) would really focus on and develop policies, programs, and funding sources to help focus (efforts) there and be more strategic...as a way to enhance downtown," Townsend says.

It can be said that a downtown is the sum of its parts. The arteries, streetscapes, sidewalks, and alleys of a city all make up its DNA. As such, the investment in Fort Wayne’s urban corridors is bringing about a new wave of excitement from citizens and developers alike when it comes to revitalization. 

The 2016 Downtown Blueprint Update provides a narrative about key wins as well as plans for the future.

As far as the present, Townsend says it’s no coincidence that projects like riverfront development are taking off. It all goes back to buy-in. 

“They're all so tied to connectivity, the importance of getting people to destinations," she explains. "Developers saw that this is a community that they want to invest in because we have a shared vision.”

Speaking of connectivity, the city recognizes that transportation is one piece of that puzzle. 

“So one thing that we focus on a lot is transportation, particularly alternative forms,” says Mary Tyndall, Community Development spokesperson.

While downtown Fort Wayne is fairly accessible to residents with personal vehicles, the City sees need to continue supporting other modes of transit, like walking and biking downtown.

Offering a direct route from the heart of downtown to the riverfront, Harrison Street is poised to play a larger role in connectivity, as well.

Tyndall says additional advancements could take shape in the form of connecting existing trails in neighborhoods to run through downtown as well as the expansion of sidewalks.

She explains that this "urban trail" model has experienced success in cities like Indianapolis, and she thinks Fort Wayne's residents would welcome the changes, too.



Getting more people downtown begets more investment and that extends to initiatives like additional retail investment or housing. Enter the spillover effect.

"Expansion in one area, say housing and hotels, is having a spillover effect into other areas, such as retail, restaurants, and amenities," according to the Winston-Salem Journal.

Regarding housing, Townsend says market studies indicate a demand for more types of units in downtown Fort Wayne. Now, it’s more of a matter of the specifics.

“I think now developers are talking about, "Do we need brownstones? Do we need owner-occupied units? How many rentals are affordable versus market (rate)?’ Those are things that we're working with.”

A lot of options are on the table in general regarding redevelopment, and Townsend is confident that past success bodes well for the future. 

"You know, we haven't had a lot of failures," she says. "We haven't had a lot of projects, tank or (go) wrong. That's not to say that we won't ever (fail), but I'm just saying that we try to be thoughtful and collaborative with the community and our other partners and make the best decisions and recommendations that we can."

Read more articles by Lauren Caggiano.

Lauren Caggiano is a Fort Wayne-based writer. A 2007 graduate of the University of Dayton, she returned to Northeast Indiana to pursue a career. In the past 12 years she has worked in journalism, public relations, marketing, and digital media. She currently writes for several local, regional, and national publications.
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