Columbia Street, also known as The Landing, in downtown Fort Wayne has long been a focal point of local life. Named after Dana Columbia, a hotel and Canal boat operator, the street has been the location of many firsts in the city, including its first post office, hotel, newspaper, theater, and railway station in the 1800s.
Now, it’s providing many residents in Fort Wayne with their first experience living in a communal, urban environment, too.
Since Cincinnati’s Model Group wrapped up construction on a $32.2-million project to renovate the historic cultural district in October 2019, it has opened to residents and visitors alike. (The Model Group also recently joined RTM Ventures as a co-developer on Fort Wayne’s ambitious Electric Works project.)
Heather Klejnot, Community Manager for the Model Group, oversees The Landing’s apartments and commercial spaces. She says there are 70 residential units total spread out over five mixed-use buildings—one new and four historically renovated. Currently, all units are at capacity, but 12 residential units will be coming available for lease soon, ranging from studios to two-bedroom apartments.
So, what do some of the first tenants on The Landing say about living there, even during COVID-19?
We proverbially knocked on three doors to find out.
Callie and Dylan's living room at 123 W. Columbia St.
Caleb Young Caleb Young
Caleb Young, Assistant Conductor for the Fort Wayne Philharmonic, was among the first tenants to move into The Landing in a renovated three-story historic building at 123 W. Columbia St.
“I literally stood in this apartment when it was nothing but the framework,” Young says. “I was really inspired by the city bringing this historic street back to life.”
As a transplant from North Carolina, Young landed his first conducting position in Fort Wayne after graduating with his masters from Indiana University. Since then, he’s enjoyed getting to know the community on a deeper level. He chose to move into a studio apartment unit on The Landing to reap the benefits of a more connected, urban lifestyle for himself and his pet cat.
Like his apartment, he says living on The Landing, in general, is the best of both worlds, the old Fort Wayne and the new.
“You have this historic charm, yet you have the convenience of a coffee shop right across the street,” he says. “It’s pretty amazing.”
As one of the first tenants, he knew he was going to be a guinea pig in The Landing’s residential units, but he’s been happy with the decision to take a chance on the space.
“There’s going to be challenges, and I think we’ve all had those in our respective buildings,” he says. “What has made the experience positive for me is the management of Model Group has been very, very good about addressing issues right away, coming to solutions quickly, and listening to the tenants.”
Now that the Landing has celebrated its one-year renovation anniversary in October 2020, Young feels that the area is creating a strong sense of community among its tenants and businesses. In the last several months, he’s seen new commercial spaces open their doors, from Utopian Coffee & the Landing Beer Co., to House to Home, jeffrey.benjamin.hair Salon, Alto Grado pizzeria, the soon-to-open Mercado, and more.
Even during COVID-19, he feels that the benefits of living near these businesses and the culture they inspire makes The Landing a special place.
“I’ve seen the spectrum of what a community can feel like, and I have never felt more at home than being here on The Landing,” Young says. “I’m really happy here.”
Brian and Genevieve Gerig Brian and Genevieve Gerig
Young’s neighbors at 123 W. Columbia St., Brian and Genevieve Gerig, are empty-nesters who say, for them, moving into an apartment on The Landing had sentimental value.
“We used to come down here when we were dating 33 years ago, when there was a little café that played jazz,” Genevieve says. “It was really ahead of it’s time for the coffeehouse atmosphere. So, when I saw the plans that were being made and restored, in some ways, it just got to me.”
Since their children are grown, the Gerigs chose to downsize from their four-bedroom, 2,500-square-foot home to their one-bedroom roughly 700-foot loft.
So far, they say the adjustment, while drastic, has been going well.
“One thing we had to get used to was we are one of the buildings that doesn’t have an elevator, and we’re on the third floor,” Brian says.
Despite the climb, he and Genevieve agree it’s worth the trek for the view they get. Their goldendoodle, the “Guardian of The Landing,” as they joke, seems to agree. He often sits perched in the window overlooking the street.
In their building, which was remodeled according to historic preservation standards, the Model Group’s goal was to maintain as many original features as possible. Their space features a modern, industrial style, including exposed brick walls, wooden beams, and concrete flooring.
Callie and Dylan's bedroom on The Landing.
Genevieve and Brian agree the industrial vibe was a major stylistic change for them, too.
“It’s just getting used to that type of environment, which we love, but it’s getting used to not hanging things on the walls to maintain the beauty of this building,” Genevieve says.
Despite the adjustments, the Gerigs enjoy being close to Promenade Park, and the active lifestyle it affords them and their growing family.
“We love having our granddaughter come visit us here,” Genevieve says. “She likes to ride her bike and scooter up and down The Landing.”
Brian says when they first moved into their apartment, they appreciated how close amenities, like Nawa, were to them, as well.
“It’s nice having Utopian Coffee, and the Landing Beer Co., and other new restaurants popping up this month that are so close,” Brian says. “Those are the things that, when you’re inviting people over, you can go do with them.”
Callie and Dylan Jacquay Callie, Wolfie, and Dylan Jacquay
Like the Gerigs, newlyweds Callie and Dylan Jacquay appreciate being close to Promenade Park, in their one-bedroom unit in a six-story historic building at 118 W. Columbia St. above Utopian Coffee + Kitchen.
Callie says they moved into the space just before the pandemic began, and the virus delayed the opening of a few amenities on the block. Even so, she and Dylan have appreciated being able to get outdoors on the Riverfront and social distance close to home.
“We’re still able to take our dog on walks and get outside,” she says.
An active, communal lifestyle is part of The Landing’s features, says Klejnot, pointing out that residential buildings have communal spaces with bike racks for residents to use. This prevents residents from having to store equipment in their rooms.
Many buildings on The Landing offer communal bike storage spaces for residents.
Although the Landing’s units are generally smaller than similarly priced-units in other parts of the city, Callie says she and Dylan have enjoyed the more communal lifestyle The Landing has afforded them, encouraging them to more time out and about downtown, supporting nearby small businesses on the block.
“Utopian, especially,” Callie says. “It’s been perfect because it’s literally downstairs. We can go downstairs and work there. We’ve gotten to know the baristas and the bartenders, and it’s been really fun because we have become regulars there.”
While the Jacquays have since purchased their first home together and will soon be moving out of their apartment, they say The Landing has provided them with an unforgettable experience.
“We knew that we didn’t want to get a house yet, being newly married,” Callie says. “We knew that there was a lot of great development happening downtown made us really excited to join The Landing community, and we wanted to be pioneers in the community to witness the growth firsthand.”
The new Utopian Coffee + Kitchen opened at 118 W. Columbia St. on Monday next door to the soon-to-be-open Landing Beer Co.
Looking to the future
Although there will soon be opportunities to live on The Landing, Klejnot says her team is focusing on leasing the commercial spaces they have available, looking to create the “right mix” of businesses to build up the community.
“The businesses are like the magic sauce,” Klejnot says. “They bring the ambiance and excitement to the block.”
The Landing hopes to host large gatherings and community events once it is safe to do so. In the meanwhile, Klejnot says all plans are on hold during COVID-19. Even so, The Landing’s businesses will be open for the holiday season.
For inquiries regarding residential or commercial spaces on The Landing, visit www.thelandingfw.com/contact to submit a request.