In early July, the new Hampton Inn & Suites by Hilton opened in downtown Fort Wayne, offering guests sweeping views of the city skyline from 136 state-of-the-art rooms and the popular Connor’s Rooftop Bar.
But if you happened to be looking for a downtown hotel room in the first few weeks after its opening, you might have still found yourself out of luck.
A global youth roller hockey tournament called the State Wars brought 15,000 young athletes and their families to the Summit City in July for a 14-day tournament, booking up all of the city center’s hotels—including the new Hampton—without a room to spare on a random Wednesday night.
It’s events like this that keep the Fort Wayne Visitor’s Center extra busy in the summertime, says Kristen Gutherie, Vice President of Marketing & Communications at Visit Fort Wayne.
The Visitor's Center provides guests with information, brochures, maps, and city swag.
While the Summit City doesn’t necessarily top the list of hot vacation destinations, it does host a lot of sporting tournaments and hobby meetups during the summer. Throughout the year, it also hosts large conventions and draws a steady stream of researchers to attractions like the Allen County Public Library, which houses the 2nd largest genealogy collection in the nation.
If nothing else, Fort Wayne makes a nice pitstop for travelers on a Midwest road trip, Gutherie adds, and this year, Visit Fort Wayne has been busier than ever.
In 2019, the city saw some of its most—and most diverse—visitors to date. For instance, it hosted events like the International Blind Sports Federation’s Goalball and Judo Paralympic Qualifying Competition, which brought more than 600 athletes, coaches, officials, and delegates from more than 40 countries across the globe to the Summit City.
More than 40 countries were represented at the 2019 IBSA Goalball and Judo International Paralympic Qualifiers in Fort Wayne.
It all begs the question: What do these diverse visitors think when they come to Fort Wayne, and how can Fort Wayne be more accommodating to out of town guests?
As two of the hosts interacting with guests on a regular basis, Visitor Information Specialists Carolyn Shelton and Vicki Musser are the experts to ask.
“One of the things we hear over and over again is how clean the city is,” Musser says. “People come in and say, ‘It’s so clean here!’”
“And it’s friendly, too,” Shelton adds.
But beyond what you might expect from a humble, Midwestern town, visitors also comment on how much there is to do in downtown Fort Wayne. They stop by the Visitor’s Center and are astounded by the sheer number of dining options in the downtown area alone.
“They get stumped with the restaurant map because there are so many choices,” Musser says. “If you’re just walking around downtown, you don’t really realize how many restaurants there are. Visitors are like, ‘Where do we start?’”
The new Burger Bar in downtown Fort Wayne provides guests with a grab-and-go option.
Along with the map of dining options, Shelton says another popular map picked up by visitors is Fort Wayne’s public art map, which shows off art displays like the alleyway murals commissioned by Art This Way.
“That’s a huge favorite every day,” she explains. “Visitors are interested in the city’s public art, the riverfront, and the trails. We hand out trail maps all the time, too. People are astounded that we have more than 100 miles of trails here.”
On a quick bike ride along the Fort Wayne Trail system, visitors can access amenities like breweries and the new riverfront Promenade Park downtown.
In addition to helping visitors better discover the area, Shelton says that sometimes Visit Fort Wayne finds itself helping longtime Fort Wayne residents rediscover their hometown, too.
“We have residents who will be hosting their family or friends from out of town, and they’ll come into the Visitor’s Center with them, and say, ‘Wow, there’s so much to do here!’”
Musser attributes this phenomenon to how much downtown Fort Wayne has evolved in the past few years. Sometimes, residents who have lived in Allen County for decades might not realize how much they need to revisit their own town.
“There’s a population of residents who assume downtown Fort Wayne is what it was 10 or 15 years ago,” she explains. “They don’t work downtown, so they’re not coming downtown on a regular basis. We get a lot of people who are reexploring their own city now.”
The Deck at Hall's Gas House is a popular downtown eatery.
Overall, one thing Fort Wayne residents and visitors seem to have in common is the growing desire for a downtown grocery store.
Musser says that when Fort Wayne hosted hundreds of international visitors this summer from European countries and Australia, guests were surprised to learn that they couldn’t walk to a grocery store from their downtown hotels.
“A lot of people from European countries think that’s weird,” she says. “We had one visitor who ended up walking all the way to the Kroger on West State Boulevard.”
So what’s at the top of the wishlist for guests in downtown Fort Wayne?
“A small store that sells groceries and phone chargers,” Musser says. “It doesn’t seem like a visitor wish, but I think a lot of visitors would really utilize that—in addition to the residents who live downtown.”
After all, Shelton notes: “We have so many more residents living downtown now, too.”
Need to rediscover downtown Fort Wayne?
Attend Visit Fort Wayne’s free, annual Be A Tourist in Your Hometown event to explore several area attractions.
This year’s event features more than 15 Fort Wayne museums and attractions that are open to the public for free on Sunday, Sept. 8 from noon–5 p.m.
2019 Participating Attractions:
Allen County Courthouse
Allen County Public Library
Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory
The History Center
The Karpeles Manuscript Library Museums
The Landing Fort Wayne
Little River Wetlands Project — Monarch Festival
Historic Fort Wayne
Riverfront Fort Wayne — Promenade Park
Visit Fort Wayne — Visitors Center
Print your passport now at: VisitFortWayne.com/BeATourist
Pick up a free passport booklet at any area Old National Bank or Kroger location, available mid-August.
Share your photos on social media using #BAT2019.