What is your first impression of Fort Wayne? Midwest travel writers fill us in on their visit

What is your first impression of Fort Wayne? 

We took the opportunity to ask this question when Visit Fort Wayne hosted more than 40 travel writers in early May as part of the 2022 Spring Conference for the Midwest Travel Journalists Association (MTJA).

Based in 13 Midwestern states, MTJA members travel across the U.S. and around the world, experiencing the best of what cities have to offer. During their time in Fort Wayne, they went on several guided tours of local restaurants, attractions, businesses, and hotels.

Here’s what four travel writers had to say about their time in Fort Wayne and what they see as the city’s greatest assets and opportunities.
 

MeLinda Schnyder MeLinda Schnyder of Wichita, Kansas

"I hope I’ll be able to visit Fort Wayne again once Electric Works is open; it’s going to be a great gathering place for locals and visitors.”


Tell us a little bit about you and what types of travel writing you do.

I worked as a newspaper reporter after graduating from the Missouri School of Journalism in 1993 and eventually became a freelance journalist, writing mostly about business, aviation, travel as well as lifestyle/entertainment topics. I have written in the travel niche for several decades, and it’s become the majority of my focus the past 10 years. So that means I’ve been a working journalist for three decades!

I write general destination features for AAA World magazines, several newspapers and magazines in the Great Plains states and a national online media outlet focused on getting their membership and the U.S. population of about 600,000 recreational owner/pilots to fly their aircraft more often. They hire writers like me to share destinations worth flying to for vacation.

Tell us about your previous travels.

The only numbers I’ve kept as far as my travel: I’ve stayed at least one night in all but four U.S. states. I’ve seen a baseball game in every city with a Major League Baseball team except Cleveland; my husband has seen a game in all of them and now we are doubling back to pick up cities with new ballparks since our last visits and adding as many minor league parks along the way. I saw a game in Fort Wayne and in South Bend during my recent visit during the MTJA spring conference. (We had plans to visit Cleveland in 2020 before COVID canceled those plans.)

How many times have you previously visited Fort Wayne?

This was my first visit to the city and only my fourth time visiting the state. (I attended the summer journalism workshops at Ball State in Muncie as a high schooler from Columbia, Missouri.)

What were your impressions of Fort Wayne before you visited for the first time?

To be honest, I was biased because Jessa Campbell of Visit Fort Wayne regularly attends our Midwest Travel Journalists Association conferences. During those conferences, we have a chance to sit down with representatives of destinations throughout the Midwest. I had heard great things about The Landing and other riverfront developments, and she has done a great job of keeping me updated on why I should visit the city and pitch articles about the city to my outlets.
 
What are your impressions of Fort Wayne after you visited this spring?

Some travel journalists write about places they haven’t been, and I’ve had to do that a few times by investing lots of time researching online and on the telephone. However, nothing can replace actually visiting a destination. You really get a sense for the community, and I feel my narrative is much stronger and more authentic when I’ve had meals, drinks, and shopped at The Landing or walked through Electric Works and heard developers talk about their vision. I hope I’ll be able to visit Fort Wayne again once Electric Works is open; it’s going to be a great gathering place for locals and visitors.

I live in Wichita, which is the largest city in Kansas, but gets discounted as a vacation destination outside the state because it’s considered a mid-major city. I came away from my visit feeling that Fort Wayne is similar in that it’s a mid-major city that people likely overlook for vacations. In fact, most of my friends and family asked “why?” when I told them I had visited Fort Wayne. I was happy to give them a lot of great reasons that surprised them and intrigued them. 

I think travelers will begin returning to more urban vacations, but will seek places that are not large and crowded. I think they want a mix of urban amenities while still having outdoor options as we continue to emerge from the non-travel time during the pandemic. Fort Wayne fits that type of vacation destination.
 
What do you see as Fort Wayne’s greatest assets and opportunities as a destination? What’s working well, and what could take things to the next level?

Maybe the best way to answer this is what I found myself telling my friends and family about when I returned. I’ll add in a few notes on what I think are opportunities, too.

The Allen County Public Library is a true treasure, and it appears the city and residents realize this by the investments made in both The Rolland Center for Lincoln Research and The Genealogy Center. I had long wanted to start my own genealogy research, and thanks to hearing about the center at past MTJA conferences, I waited to start my research during this visit. It was incredible the amount of information the team at the center provided; my only regret is not having more time to dig into what they found while at the library and being able to access the experts!

The Genealogy Center at the Allen County Public Library.

The GE campus (now known as Electric Works) was fascinating. Since one of the niches I write about is anything connected to aviation, I was thrilled to find out the campus built motors for military aircraft. The food hall/market and the bowling center/bar areas will be big draws; I hope the school that is opening there will have some kind of public element that visitors can explore. It would also be fun if the campus would offer public tours that were led by folks who used to work there or had family who worked for GE.

The Electric Works campus is south of downtown Fort Wayne.

Along the aviation lines, I read a little in advance about the fate of the local aviation museum. I hope the community will support either establishing a permanent aviation museum or incorporating more than just one display in the airport and one in the history museum.

I loved the murals, and it was great that Visit Fort Wayne had artists give us tours; that adds so much to our articles versus just seeing the murals on our own. To be honest, a lot of cities we visit have murals, but Fort Wayne’s Art This Way provided an interesting story, and the fact that they’ve brought in some well-known artists helped take it up a notch over some cities. It sounds like there are plans to continue the work of murals in the downtown area; I think there is a lot of great growth opportunities here, such as incorporating the artists at Vera Bradley into the murals. I could see a mural highlighting the current season’s new patterns that visitors would flock to for selfies and group photos when they are in town for the annual sale.

Art This Way has been bringing street art to downtown Fort Wayne’s alleys since 2017.

I did a day tour of Turnstone, and before visiting, I wondered how I would incorporate an adaptive sports facility into a travel article for the general public. I’m still not sure it’ll work into that type of article, but I came away glad to know that Turnstone exists and wanting to figure out an outlet where I can pitch a story on their incredible facilities and the work they are doing. Every community should have this type of facility for all the populations they serve. It is a gem for the local community, but also for folks they serve throughout the country.

Turnstone unveiled its official U.S. Paralympics training site signage in March.

Sweetwater–I am not a musician and had never heard of this business, but I loved our tour there. It’s great, too, that the public also can drop in to tour beyond just shopping. Travelers are always looking for behind-the-scenes experiences.

Sweetwater's new retail store entrance provides a glimpse into what you can expect inside.

Overall, what was great about our visit to Fort Wayne was that we didn’t just visit places, but we got to meet the people behind the places. From athletes at Turnstone to Barbara Bradley Baekgaard, who was so generous with her time in sharing the Vera Bradley story with our group—getting to meet the people of Fort Wayne really stands out. I know this isn’t possible for the general public, but maybe there’s a way to use technology to allow visitors to meet some of them. A kiosk at The Bradley Hotel where you can hear directly from Barb–hearing her talk gave me a sense of her fun personality and was an experience I won’t forget. Hearing the Paralympian talk about the app he developed for people with sight disabilities was fascinating. Maybe some of those types of experiences could be available at the visitor center or elsewhere downtown. 

Guests enjoy the Grand Opening of The Bradley at Birdie's Rooftop Bar at 204 W. Main St.

I think there needs to be a flagship Vera Bradley store downtown. If I flew into Fort Wayne on my own, I would want to base my stay downtown without renting a vehicle and would want to walk to a store where I could shop for Vera Bradley products.

As with many mid-major cities, developing downtown successfully is going to take support from locals as much as visitors. Events bring in busloads of people who support the restaurants, hotels, museums, and retailers, but when an event is happening those businesses depend on residents to keep the doors open. That year-round support will lead more businesses to set up shop downtown, in turn leading to more visitors. It’s all connected.

 

Diana Lambdin Meyer Diana Lambdin Meyer of Kansas City, Missouri

“There's a waiter at the Dash-In who was just too funny. I'm smiling as I think about him. And we were walking around the Landing one night and a couple of locals, just out for a stroll, smiled and welcomed us to Fort Wayne. That doesn't always happen.”


Tell us a little bit about you and what types of travel writing you do. 

I've been writing travel full-time since 1995, so yikes that makes me old. Of course, all of that came to a screeching halt with the pandemic. I enjoy small towns and rural areas, history and different cultures, and a little bit of quirky.

Tell us about your previous travels.

I've been to all 50 states multiple times, all Canadian provinces, so much of Europe and Central America, much of the Caribbean, and Southeast Asia…. It's easier to say where I've not been.

How many times have you previously visited Fort Wayne? 

Once before in 2019 when I was in Indiana writing on the new national park, I decided to drop down and visit Johnny Appleseed. At that time, I fell in love with the TinCaps and ballpark and all of the downtown art.

What were your impressions of Fort Wayne before you visited for the first time?

I've always found good stories in Indiana, and while I didn't know much about Fort Wayne, I was expecting a nice little Midwest city. That's what I found. The staff at your convention and visitors bureau does a nice job of keeping writers updated on what's going on, but seeing/experiencing for yourself always makes the difference. 

What are your impressions of Fort Wayne after you visited this spring?

I continue to be blown away by the public art and the art museums. We took a downtown walking tour of murals and loved the whimsy, the creativity, and the overall energy it brings to your community. A lot of communities have mural art, but Fort Wayne has done an exceptional job with it.

And I loved The Bradley Hotel. What a great addition that is! And all of your bike trails, well done.

What do you see as Fort Wayne’s greatest assets and opportunities as a destination? What’s working well, and what could take things to the next level?

As always, it's people who make a destination memorable. I was so impressed with the Lincoln Center and the Genealogy Center at the library. Curt Wichter is a treasure. As is Barbara Bradley Baekgaard.

Inside the Allen County Public Library.

There's a waiter at the Dash-In who was just too funny. I'm smiling as I think about him. And we were walking around The Landing one night and a couple of locals, just out for a stroll, smiled and welcomed us to Fort Wayne. That doesn't always happen.

With its eclectic mix of businesses and developing culture, The Landing is attracting transplants, empty nesters, and young couples to try urban living.

We also took a tour of the Electric Works. Wow, that's going to be something when done. I love that the Detroit Pistons got started there, and I think the speakeasy in the bowling alley will be a lot of fun. I want to come back and see all of that.

Electric Works is the largest project Fort Wayne has considered in recent years.

I took a selfie with your talking tree in the Botanical Conservatory. I felt we were soul mates. :)

 

Wendy PramikWendy Pramik of Columbus, Ohio

“The people in Fort Wayne seem quite fashionable, perhaps influenced by it being the hometown of Vera Bradley.”

 
Tell us a little bit about you and what types of travel writing you do.
 
I graduated in 1992 from The Ohio State University with a degree in journalism. I worked at the Columbus Dispatch newspaper for 15 years, where I was a writer in the special sections department and an editor of several travel sections. I now work full-time as a writer and photographer at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. I’ve been a freelance travel writer and photographer for 22 years. When my kids were younger, I wrote a blog called Columbus Family Adventures, which was featured on the Good Day Columbus news program and named a top blog the Thurber House. My husband, Mike Pramik, also is a writer and former business reporter at the Dispatch. He and I often write travel pieces together and our stories and photos have been published in USA Today, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Columbus Dispatch, Dallas Morning News, and Midwest Living. We love traveling with our children, Rosie and Max, on weekends and during their school breaks. 

Tell us about your previous travels.

We primarily travel around Ohio and the Midwest and have visited and written about hundreds of destinations.
 
How many times have you previously visited Fort Wayne?
 
Twice, and look forward to returning again.
 
What were your impressions of Fort Wayne before you visited for the first time?
 
My first impression was that Fort Wayne was a clean, compact, and friendly city that was perfect for a weekend, family getaway from Ohio. It also seemed especially colorful after reviewing my photos from our first trip.
 
What are your impressions of Fort Wayne after you visited this spring?
 
The people in Fort Wayne seem quite fashionable, perhaps influenced by it being the hometown of Vera Bradley. It also was great to learn that Fort Wayne wants to be a top music destination, which I can understand after visiting Sweetwater. I also would like to return to explore the Genealogy Center at the Allen County Public Library.

A walk in Promenade Park at 202 W. Superior St. is one of many ways to fight the winter blues in Downtown Fort Wayne.
 
What do you see as Fort Wayne’s greatest assets and opportunities as a destination? What’s working well, and what could take things to the next level?
 
Fort Wayne doesn’t seem to be a city that turns its back on its history or resources, as seen in the redevelopment of its riverfront at Promenade Park and the historic buildings in The Landing. I think its greatest asset will be the new Electric Works district, which will undoubtedly draw visitors from afar. Hopefully, the new district capitalizes on some of Fort Wayne’s other great assets including artistic murals, a large Vera Bradley store (with a Vera Bradley mural), and innovative music venues.

 

Suzanne KenzerSuzanne Kenzer of Chicago, Illinois

“I knew nothing about Fort Wayne, and I must admit, friends and family questioned why I would ever want to visit…. Once I arrived in Fort Wayne, I was so impressed by all of the development in progress throughout the city and what the city already had to offer visitors and residents alike.”


Tell us a little bit about you and what types of travel writing you do.

I'm a freelance travel editor and writer specializing in covering luxury travel. I also cover family, soft adventure, and cruise travel, as well as general destination assignments. 

Tell us about your previous travels.

In my more than 25-year career, I've covered national and international destinations, including Egypt, China, Australia, most of Western Europe, the Caribbean, Mexico, Canada, and throughout the United States.

How many times have you previously visited Fort Wayne? 

This recent MTJA conference (my first, as a new member) was my first trip to Fort Wayne.

What were your impressions of Fort Wayne before you visited for the first time? 

I knew nothing about Fort Wayne (prior to the conference), and I must admit, friends and family questioned why I would ever want to visit. They could not name a single attraction or draw for tourists.

What are your impressions of Fort Wayne after you visited this spring?

Once I arrived in Fort Wayne, I was so impressed by all of the development in progress throughout the city and what the city already had to offer visitors and residents alike. Your capitol building is stunning and the Genealogy Center at Allen County Public Library is extremely impressive. The results of their research on behalf of our families not only illustrated the Center's capabilities but deeply moved many of us, answering long-held questions about our ancestors. 



I loved the restaurants and shops at The Landing, our visit to the Fort Wayne Children's Zoo, our tours of Sweetwater and the Vera Bradley Design Center, and our hard hat tour of the Electric Works. Between Electric Works and the new mixed-use complexes going up by the river, there should be plenty to entice tourists in future years.

Special touches at The Bradley at 204 W. Main St.

What do you see as Fort Wayne’s greatest assets and opportunities as a destination? What’s working well, and what could take things to the next level? 

The cohesive, supportive environment that nurtures new businesses and the extensive revitalization of downtown are major assets. Getting the word out about these changes in Fort Wayne should be a big priority as these projects reach their completion. In addition, other boutique hotels like The Bradley, would be an asset to the city, should tourism demand prove able to support them. 

Read more articles by Kara Hackett.

Kara Hackett is a Fort Wayne native fascinated by what's next for northeast Indiana how it relates to other up-and-coming places around the world. After working briefly in New York City and Indianapolis, she moved back to her hometown where she has discovered interesting people, projects, and innovations shaping the future of this place—and has been writing about them ever since. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @karahackett.