Voices of South East: Longtime residents weigh in on the community's assets and future developments

Longtime residents and advocates for Fort Wayne’s South East side say the area has potential. Progress is being made, they say, but it is moving slow.

“I have watched it evolve over the years,” says DJ E-Clyps. “It’s a beautiful place. Given the right opportunity, it would be great.” DJ E-Clyps

E-Clyps was born and raised on Fort Wayne’s South East side. He graduated from South Side High School and went on to become an accomplished photographer, videographer, and owner of Blacklight Media. Some of his pictures taken during last year’s protests in downtown Fort Wayne were published in Time Magazine and New York Magazine.

Now, E-Clyps says he uses his platform to give back to the South East community, which he stays connected with.

“All my friends and family here,” he says. “This is what I know.”

Photo courtesy of DJ E-Clyps/Blacklight Media.

While he describes the area as full of opportunity and recalls the countless creative people who have been birthed out of the South East (himself included), E-Clyps says it is no secret that some people don’t even want to visit the area.

“People thought Creighton Street was ghetto,” he says. “(They would say) ‘Don’t go past Creighton or Pontiac.’ People built their own conception of South East without experiencing it for themselves.”

A busy street in South East Fort Wayne.

There was a point in time when South East was booming, says Councilwoman Sharon Tucker. Affluent people of all races lived there. Major companies were in the heart of South East and provided its residents with a place to live and a means to take care of their families. Tucker

Now, Tucker says there is a need for basic amenities in the area.

“We don’t want more storage units or another gas station,” she says. "We don’t want to drive downtown for coffee, food options, or dog grooming. We need basic amenities that people take for granted.”

Tucker says there has been a lot of conversation and verbal support of South East development. The community is beginning to see infrastructure come into place for people to develop, she says. However, the community is ready to see action.

“We can’t take our eye off the goalpost, or it won’t get done,” says Tucker.

A mural in South East Fort Wayne at the corner of Gay and Pontiac Streets.

Pastor Robert Bell of True Love Baptist Church says he moved to Fort Wayne in 1976. He has always lived South East. He remembers when Southtown Mall was booming, restaurants were plentiful, and grocery stores were accessible. He is optimistic that it can happen again. Bell

“South East is a great area to live,” he says. “It is diverse, with a variety of cultures and languages. Perspective needs to change by people who don’t see it is a vibrant place. We need to get the right people, with the right partners at the table, and I think we will see more progress.”

With the help of community leaders, people are beginning to see activity in South East, and while they are encouraged by the progress, it’s clear that more work needs to be done.

”I’m excited about the attention and focus,” says Tucker. “That needs to become dirt turn.”

The question for some, like E-Clyps, is whether the developments that do happen in the 46803 and 46806 zip codes will benefit the communities and the creatives already living there. While E-Clyps is optimistic about the area's future, and he's attended City planning sessions to weigh in on developments in the past, he's also been dismayed by the number of local, historical landmarks in South East that have not been preserved, despite their value to the community.

"Places like Link’s Wonderland (1711 Creighton Ave.) were staples in this community," E-Clyps says. "At one point, it was a skating rink, a movie theatre, a club, and a bowling alley. All these things were in one building, and it was a mecca of South East."

Link's Wonderland was a community staple in South East at 1711 Creighton Ave.

E-Clyps says that he used to DJ at a club at Link's called Club 1, which allowed him to develop his skills as an artist and helped him grow his business. Where will the next generation of artists in South East find creative inspiration and outlets to build their skills?

"I'd like to see some of these important places around South East be designated as historical landmarks, so they can't be destroyed or altered," E-Clyps says.

Painted basketball courts at McMillen Park courtesy of AbsorbAll.

As downtown Fort Wayne's growth and development extends into South East, E-Clyps is concerned that the proper protections for buildings and renters are not in place to prevent gentrification. He mentions a recent development on the border of the South East side, where an abandoned brick building at 1941 South Calhoun St. was turned into luxury townhouses that were originally listed for more than $1.2 million each online. The prices were later reduced to about $500,000 each.

"We need to be asking ourselves: How does this not look and smell and walk like gentrification?" he says.

The Corner Store at 1716 E. Pontiac St.

This involves local leaders thinking about who currently lives on the South East side, who will be able to access and take advantage of the developments happening there, and who is around the table when these future developments are being planned—at their earliest stages.

"There are some town hall meetings, but those meetings need to be in the South East community where people know about them and can get to them," E-Clyps says. 

The Hessen Cassel branch of the Allen County Public Library.

Tucker says that many people who live on Fort Wayne's South East side today live there because they want to—not because they have to—and there is opportunity to support the culture these residents are already developing.

“We need to look at the value that this diverse community brings and actually meet needs and work together to do that,” she says.

This story is a part of Input Fort Wayne's Voices of South East series, running from August-September 2021 and funded by the Foellinger Foundation. For more information, read the first story in the series. Email story ideas to our Project Editor Angelica Robinson at [email protected]