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Comments

Brian Greer

Studies like this are part of why I have a hard time understanding the aversions to spending money that I notice, specifically as it relates to improvements of downtown. Being the most affordable city in six countries is all well and good, but I think when people complain about new projects that would mean a small rise in taxes or a small public expenditure (granted each should be evaluated on its own merits), they don't quite understand just how good they have it in Fort Wayne.

Alex Jokay

It's certainly why I chose to come back here from Chicago. And I didn't need to read a study to realize the financial sense it makes.

But as to Brian's comment above, the tradeoff is that we don't have a particularly affluent population. And people -- I think rightly -- don't want a tax increase to pay for iffy boondoggles which downtown development proposals invariably are. As I've said here before, the emphasis on downtown is misplaced. We really ought to be shoring up other parts of the city that are losing their lustre and leave well enough alone. In a few years we'll have much bigger fish to fry -- like what to do with an abandoned Glenbrook. Right now it's almost impossible to find a tenant for Rennaissance Square, which is being vacated by the library. That is a more crucial issue for downtown right now than another hotel in a market that can't support the ones it already has.

We need Harrison Square like we need another Midtowne Crossing.

Kevin Knuth

Alex,

I am curious though- If the new hotel doesn't cost taxpayers...what is the downside?

And despite what folks say about not needing hotels: I have been invited to an event at the Grand Wayne. This group is expecting 400-700 visitors from out of town- and their are NOT enough hotel rooms to accomodate them. They have had to set up a shuttle service.

Having done a great deal of business travel, I will tell you that I prefer to stay as close to the convention center as possible- so a hotel right across the street would be a good thing in my opinion.

Scott Greider

@Alex: downtown developments, particularly this one, are NOT iffy boondoggles! The emphasis on downtown revitalization is NOT misplaced! "Shored-up" other parts of the City will mean nothing if the core of the apple is rotten. And for all I care, let's raze Glenbrook and start from scratch! And please, stop referencing Midtowne Crossing as if it has any relevance to the current situation.

Nothing personal, of course. I just really, really, disagree with the sentiments behind your points, if not your points themselves.

Scott Greider

@Mitch: You're funny. You didn't need to reference me. I'm truly humbled.

Charlotte A. Weybright

I have to disagree with Mr. Jokay's statement that the "emphasis on downtown is misplaced."

The following is a response I wrote and sent to the News-Sentinel when it asked "Why Downtown?


In your editorial of December 27th, you asked the question "Why downtown?" Let me rephrase that for you, "Why not downtown?"

The downtown is the heart of any city. It is the place where settlement first occurs and where the history of a city grows. In Fort Wayne, the West Central Neighborhood, with its magnificent homes, was one of the first historical districts recognized. The Landing downtown actually was a "landing" where commercial transportation and exchange of goods occurred thanks to the Wabash and Erie Canal and later the Nickel Plate Railroad. The old Fort stands downtown along with the historical museum and many fine examples of past architectural styles. These are only a few of the examples of the history of the downtown area; many, many more exist.

The downtown used to be a place where people shopped, transacted business, enjoyed a meal, and gathered to interact with each other. Most enclosed malls and some open-air malls are analogous to the good, old-fashioned downtown. They are set up to provide a complete shopping experience in a defined, established space similar to the purpose of a downtown.

For instance, Glenbrook Mall is enclosed and enables people to transact business, to interact with each other, to enjoy activities, and to relax over a meal after shopping. On the southwest side of Fort Wayne, we now have Jefferson Pointe. It is an open-air mall but resembles even more closely a “downtown” with its shops, activities, and restaurants in close proximity. Why is it people are all too willing to flock to the “suburban” malls, yet turn negative when attempts are made to restore that same form of experience and enterprise to our downtown?

Developers and citizens are all too eager to develop land and projects in "Pleasant Valley Sunday" suburbs and pull people away from the city. The "white flight" to the suburbs is a fact; all you have to do is look at the demographics of the NE, NW, and SW of Fort Wayne. They range from 96% to 98% white (the last figures I could find).

Why not focus some of that effort in the reverse and provide incentives to draw people back to restoring older homes and buildings in the core of the city? Part of that effort has to include supporting projects to revitalize downtown.

Your own company, Fort Wayne Newspapers, for whatever reasons, decided to invest in downtown by building its expansion here rather than look for a location in one of the suburbs. I am sure part of it was economic, but ask yourself why you not only decided to remain in the core of the city but also made every effort to construct a building which will do justice to the historical aspects of the neighborhood in which you are located.

Finally, take time to visit the Hyde Brothers Bookstore on Wells and browse some of the old books that set out the history of Fort Wayne and Allen County. You may find yourself informed and fascinated by what we have right here in the heart of Fort Wayne.

Heather Schoegler

To Alex,

What is 'well enough' in reference to downtown? Are you truly okay with a sea of parking lots as you drive out-of-town guests through downtown? Surely you wouldn't stop at one of these parking lots and pay money to it, would you? Why not then create downtown destinations such as a hotel, baseball stadium, retail, housing and a parking garage that you can bring yourself and guests too. And, don't forget the Grand Wayne visitor as well. You don't have to bring them downtown, they are already there. And what have we provided them to spend their consumer dollars on? Dollars that end up making Fort Wayne such an affordable place to live.

Alex Jokay

In response to all:

It's one thing to be sentimental about downtown, but sentimentality is not business sense. I'm all in favor of making improvements that are viable. When they're not, who do you think gets stuck with them? Not private investors if there aren't any. And there aren't any who would touch a new hotel with a ten-foot pole.

I have a fair amount of knowledge about this by virtue of my father's long years of service as the manager of Lincoln's investment portfolio, which was and is largely comprised of real estate, much of it hotels and shopping centers. He was on the record back in the '80s telling city leaders that the projects being floated at the time were not anything an investor would be a part of. And sure enough, those city leaders came to Lincoln begging for a bailout when things weren't going as well as they'd hoped.

Lincoln, being a good citizen, stepped in and rescued the Hilton by throwing out the incompetent management put in place there by the city. The employees there weren't even bonded, which Lincoln found out when its guests staying there found their valuables taken and hotel staff were arrested. The Lincoln knew it couldn't make a silk purse out of the sow's ear that the Hilton is, but Lincoln did figure out some creative ways to get the hotel on track over its first few years. It's still not the sort of property any investor would want to own, but it's scraping by.

Now we have an enlarged convention center and sometimes too few rooms close by when there's a convention. But unless Grand Wayne produces hundreds of hotel guests each and every night, it's not worthwhile to any hotelier to be there. Grand Wayne fills the Hilton and Holiday Inn to capacity on rare occasions and shuttles are required to take the overflow to other parts of town, but the volume simply doesn't warrant building a hotel.

I strongly disagree with the characterization of Fort Wayne being rotten at its core. Downtown isn't rotten at all, but actually cleaner, safer and much more attractive than many other parts of town that are deteriorating. Fort Wayne is in peril of becoming rotten in its middle rings and the focus should properly be on keeping the whole city viable.

Sure I'd like to see a downtown that's alive with people and business. I'd also like world peace and a villa in the south of France. Wouldn't we all? But let's get real.

Shaun M. Murray

As a former resident, homeowner, and Allen County employee; I must say that this news in no way surprises me. Growing up in Michigan most of my life, it was always hillarious to hear residents of Fort Wayne complain about the tax structure of both FW and the state of Indiana. To be honest, when I first received my property tax bill, I thought it was extremely reasonable, and that was after I thought it was billed quarterly. Shortly after I realized that it was a bill for the whole year, I started to wonder how the city kept its street lights lit.

The residents of Indiana have no idea how good they have it. In fact, they may just have it a little too good.

However, there is an interesting underlying problem with this. First, because of the cost of living, it is extremely hard to move out of the state. An example, in my recent departure of the area, I had to have an increase in my salary of 68% just to be able to have the buying power in Michigan I had while living in Fort Wayne. However, wouldnt you think that this would be a benefit to those who want to stop the so called "Brain Drain."

Well, its not helping. In fact the number of people leaving the state is at an all time high. Why is this? Without having any answers, I think someone should take the initiative to find out. Think about this, if its so cheap to live in Indiana and the quality of life is supposedly so wonderful, why are people leaving? Is there some underlying factor that is driving people to leave? I dont have the answers, but I do have a theory.

I truly believe that many Hoosiers (at least the vocal ones) are out of touch with the rest of the US.

Not to discount any efforts by those in the layers of government trying to make a difference; because I believe many do understand what the problems are.

The idea for a downtown stadium is perfect representation of the problem with the mentality of some in the area. You have a large amount of private dollars and investors who are willing to make an investment in Fort Wayne, in fact, a majority of the funding will come from private dollars, and people are quick to say no. It is the same problem that was prevalant in the opposition to the Major Moves legislation. Someone is willing to give you $4 billion but you would rather lose money instead, because its "just not right". Are you kidding me?

So why is there so much ignorant opposition to projects like the dwtn stadium and Major Moves legislation? No one seems to complain when another Wall-Mart goes up in FW (There are currently more Wall-Marts per capita in the FW Region than any other like area in the US).

If anything is going to change, and Indiana or the Greater FW Region is serious about creating a solid economic base, not reminisant of the past, than the mentality/culture of the constituency is the place to start.

Growing up in Michigan has allowed me to see what happens when reality is thrown aside. Look at the auto industry and what it has done to MI. Its not pretty, but on the flip side of that, the people of Michigan get it, and are willing to do whatever it takes to allow for any percentage of increase in economic activity. We know we have a problem and dont question anyone who wants to help out. They and their dollars are welcome anywhere in the state.

Those who continue to oppose the economic development initiatives that their tax dollars are currently funding, need to wake up and join the rest of the 49 other daylight savings states.

Dave Sanders

I too am a recent (2005) transplant. After growing up in Indiana, and then moving to the east coast for 11 years, even I was surprised that I moved back to Fort Wayne. But the cost of living was just getting out of hand in Maryland, and we had to move away.

I second the sentiment on the property taxes above. We told our real estate agent what we paid out in Maryland and she nearly had a heart attack. The last year we lived there, my taxes went up nearly a third of my CURRENT mortgage. And that's to live in an overcrowded zoo with way too much traffic.

Now, about the Downtown, the FWCS, and more: I think my major issue is not that we raise taxes a little bit, but that I don't necessarily know that I trust a government and a bunch of consultants to just transplant in a new downtown. I would much rather see them figure out creative ways to make the market system work.

Personally, my main thought is that we do what needs to be done to allow proper riverboat gaming to come into the area. (Coupled with extensive shopping, dining and hotels right next door.) At this point, the morality issue is long gone on the wayside, and there's no reason that I can see that other regions of the state should benefit from the increased revenue. Put a portion of the proceeds into gambling addiction services, along with a healthy percentage of revenue and jobs going toward low income families. Then advertise the hell out of it in the tri-state area.

Mark Garvin

Well, it looks like the effort to "educate" the 71% of the people opposed to the Harrison Square project is off and running.

So you mean there's a hotel? And a parking garage? And maybe retail and condos? Duh, silly me, I missed that before. And they are all free? The city has been buying up all that property, before anything has been approved, with monopoloy money? Well, if we can hide an unwanted, unneeded baseball stadium in the middle of all those neat, free, promised things, then I can forget about the tax dollars for the unneeded, unwanted baseball stadium and shout "Go for it!" from the rooftops. Thanks for educating me.

I want to nominate the unbuilt hotel as the hotel of the decade. This is the same unbuilt hotel that developers would flock to build once we enlarged the Grand Wayne. Its the same unbuilt hotel that the city tryed to use to justify buying the "Cindy's Diner" property, back when the key to downtown development was, according to the consultant du jour, moving things toward the Landing.

Now, the unbuilt hotel should educate us to long for a single A ballpark that we don't need. Although it is doubtful that anyone will ever stay in the unbuilt hotel because of the baseball team, apparently hotels and baseball stadiums travel in packs, so building a baseball stadium will fool a hotel into following.

What a hotel! It's been "sold" to the taxpayers three times, without anyone ever showing interest in building it.

Alex Jokay

Fort Wayne doesn't even exist on the radar of hotel developers because the number of business travelers to Fort Wayne is so inconsequential. The city's leaders were told this by none other than Robert Pritzker, whose family owns the Hyatt Hotel chain. Executives from Lincoln Life flew the mayor and others to Chicago and introduced them to Mr. Pritzker after no one was willing to accept Lincoln's sound business advice. Mr. Pritzker very graciously told them essentially the same thing, that the plans were simply too ambitious for the Fort Wayne market.

That was with regard to what became the Hilton, a very scaled-back facility compared to the original plans, and to this day it performs suboptimally as promised by people who know the hotel business. The presence of another hotel downtown might just kill the Hilton altogether.

Not to worry, though. The Robert Pritzkers of the world won't be ponying up any cash to make it happen. The only way it will happen is if it is fully subsidized by the city. And that, I suspect, is exactly what some people are hoping will happen, so be alert, folks.

Tony Moreno

Somebody asked me how I felt about the project. I replied, well it's going to make my property values go up a lot (I live downtown). His reply... "Yeah well you property taxes are going to go up too." I tried not to laugh. True story.

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