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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments


Went to the "Fifth Tuesday" City Council meeting on downtown redevelopment tonight. Some random thoughts, in no particular order:

1. BlueprintPlus has 13 catalyst projects deemed the most important to move revitalization along, but much of the two-hour-plus meeting focused on only one, the new hotel, and only on one aspect, where to put it. The original site now occupied by Belmont Beverage? Or the site now preferred by planners, a few blocks further north on Harrison? First impression: Doesn't matter. Give the project (in one attendee's words) to the developer who will give the city the most hotel for the least amount of city money invested. Then let the developer pick the site, since that developer will know a lot more about what will make a hotel succeed or fail than anybody in the local planning process.

2. Anything we do -- especially those big projects -- will be pretty much a crap shoot; they might work in helping create a vibrant downtown, but they might not. Many of the same hopes we're now investing in the hotel and other projects were once invested in other projects that didn't quite work as advertised. "Can anyone show me?" one person asked, "all the restaurants and businesses we have downtown now because of the Holiday Inn and Hilton?"

3. It isn't the details of the plan that matter so much as the passion people bring to it. It was evident tonight -- and Dan Carmody, the new Downtown Improvement District director, picked up on it -- that there is a growing number of people committed to downtown and eager to get things done. Focusing on that reality, I hope, will keep the plan moving forward as we argue the merits of this or that portion of it. We shouldn't get sidetracked by disagreements of a single piece, like the hotel, and just end up with another grand idea collecting dust on a shelf.

4. But the plan should be seen as organic, not set in stone. Councilman Tim Pape seemed a little defensive to me in arguing that the plan is a whole that must be advanced in total lest it all fall apart. After all, he said, we had 600 very bright, dedicated people who helped get us to this point. Are we going to start questioning them? Well, yes. As someone else pointed out (I think it was Councilman John Crawford), those 600 people represent one-quarter of 1 percent of the 250,000 people who have a stake in this. BlueprintPlus is the result of a great public-input process, but that doesn't mean we stop getting public input. A dynamic downtown will come from a dynamic plan, and that means one open to change based on new ideas.

5. What is it we want downtown to be exactly? Ask 100 people, and you'll likely get 100 answers, but common to all of them, I think, is the idea of a gathering place where people just feel comfortable hanging out and seeing other people doing the same thing. You see builders trying to create this atmosphere everywhere. Go to Glenbrook and walk down the middle -- all of those stores on either side of you; that's meant to feel like a Main Street. Go to Jefferson Pointe and look at the courtyard area out back; that's like a town square. I visited an upscale shopping-destination center on the outskirts of Indianapolis recently that took it another step. It was designed to look like a small town, with side streets and everything. We have a lot of such gathering places in town -- all over the place. As the town spread out, we lost the one big gathering place in the middle. If we have no core, we have less of an identity as a city.

That's enough for now, probably. I'll think about the meeting some more and write a lead editorial about it for Thursday's paper. Send me your thoughts. I'd love to make them a part of the editorial. If downtown plans are to succeed, the public discussion of them needs to be a continuous process.

Posted in: Our town


Kevin Knuth
Wed, 11/30/2005 - 8:03am


I am going to agree with Councilman Pape, and also agree with Councilman Crawford!

I do think we need to continually take public input- but there is a problem with that as well- you will NEVER make everyone happy.

I think Pape's point is that 600 people have worked for months on this project, and we can assume (hopefully) that they looked at many options to come to a final plan that made sense overall.

That does not mean it cannot be tweaked- but if we pause for every new idea, then the project will never get done.

And that is the worst that could happen.

Steve Towsley
Wed, 11/30/2005 - 9:54am

>What is it we want downtown to be exactly?
>Ask 100 people, and you'll likely get 100
>answers, but common to all of them, I
>think, is the idea of a gathering place
>where people just feel comfortable hanging
>out and seeing other people doing the
>same thing.

The question "what do we want downtown?" is primary, and one wonders if the 600 people Pape is so concerned about answered that question in the people's best interest.

If what the people want is a place to hang out as Leo says, while the developers want to make downtown a whistle stop for conventions, how are the people's wishes served?

If the people need cheap all-day parking but the developers are using up all the available land, how well is the citizenry's interest met?

If the people, including the small business owners, want an all-day destination for entertainment, culture, and shopping, are we developing the kind of downtown we'll come back to? And again, where will we leave the car while we're "hanging out" in our downtown?

LP Mike Sylvester
Wed, 11/30/2005 - 5:35pm

Downtown development is an interesting concept. I am all in favor of private investment being brought in to re-vitalize downtown, that makes sense.

What does not make sense is re-vitalizing downtown if no one really wants to re-vitalize downtown.

I live on the north side of Fort Wayne. I only go downtown to deal with the government or to eat a Coney Dog. I just have no reason or desire to go downtown myself.

In talking to my neighbors over the years I have the opinion that a majority of Fort Wayne residents do NOT want to spend even more tax dollars to re-vitalize downtown. The only people who seem to want to re-vitalize downtown are politicans, media people, people who live in or near downtown currently, and the construction people that will make money off the contracts.

I think the average citizen of Fort Wayne would prefer to pay lower taxes then to see their money needlessly spent on "another" crazy scheme.

Anyone remember Southtown Mall, that has gone well...

In fact, the question that should be asked is SHOULD we use ANY public money to build another hotel downtown in the first place? That did not go so well last time it was tried in Fort Wayne either, if memory serves, that hotel only lasted 48 months and the taxpayers flushed a lot of money down the "toilet."

Here is a trivia question for you, What was the hotel occupancy rate in Fort Wayne this year? UNDER 50%. If we had demand for a hotel I am sure a business owner would build one, the last thing we need is our local government deciding what businesses should be built downtown...

Next thing you know they will want to build one in South Town mall...

Steve Towsley
Thu, 12/01/2005 - 5:54pm

>What was the hotel occupancy rate in
>Fort Wayne this year? UNDER 50%. If we
>had demand for a hotel I am sure a
>business owner would build one, the last
>thing we need is our local government
>deciding what businesses should be built

Now this is an interesting point. If I had to guess, I'd say the new hotel was the city's gift to the enlarged Grand Wayne Center, to provide them enough rooms to attract bigger conventions. But that's just a guess. 50% occupancy would otherwise tend to shutter hotels, not create new ones.

LP Mike Sylvester
Fri, 12/02/2005 - 4:09pm

You are right Steve, the hotel is a gift to the already DUBIOUS Grand Wayne Center Expansion...

Numerous studies have been performed that show the DUBIOUS success of convention centers and hotels in this country.

Specifically a local CPA named Ron Reinking has written several articles and researched the topic of both The Grand Wayne expansion and the new proposed hotel, in both cases he comes to the conclusion that these projects will end up costing the taxpayers of this area moeny every year they exist; they will never be self sufficient...

The convention business is overbuilt. That has not stopped many cities from building even more and larger facilities; unforunately, Fort Wayne has joined this group of cities.

I think the battlecry of our City Officials is "Build the hotel and people will come to Downtown."

I just do not think this will be the case...

LP Mike Sylvester
Fri, 12/02/2005 - 4:12pm

Another point I would like to bring up while we are discussing this hotel is the effect it will have on hotels in this area that are NOT subsidized by the local government.

How would you feel if you were a business owner and you had been running a hotel in Fort Wayne for the last twenty years and scraping by to make a living. Then, all of the sudden, The City subsidizes one of your competitors who then comes in and puts you out of business.

That is exactly what happens when government favors one business by subsidizing it by extending tax abatements, money, land, etc.

Steve Towsley
Sat, 12/03/2005 - 8:18am

Not only that, those of us who have chaired conventions at the Grand Wayne Center and had to negotiate costs with them and the hotel know without a doubt that the Grand Wayne Center/Hilton complex is sorely in need of some real competition in this market.

LP Mike Sylvester
Sat, 12/03/2005 - 8:27pm


I hosted/chaired a convention in Fort Wayne (It was a small one, about 30 people) so I did it at Don Halls Guesthouse...

Don Hall's had good rates.

I wonder what the Hall family thinks about this new hotel downtown?

Steve Towsley
Mon, 12/05/2005 - 9:13am

I'm talking 1,000 attendees. $25,000 budget. For an event anywhere near that size on a fairly strict budget, your choices in town are the GWC or maybe the Coliseum, but it has no adjacent hotel. The Masonic Temple might benefit from the new hotel downtown to some extent, but the Temple seems to be positioning itself to be little cheaper than the GWC, a mistake in my personal opinion.