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

The people's stadium

The poll published by The Journal Gazette yesterday pretty much confirms what most of us already had anecdotal evidence of: Not many people support a new baseball stadium downtown. According to the poll, about seven in 10 don't think the stadium is a good idea. They are also supportive of downtown in general and are more interested in seeing more parking and more shopping than they are in seeing more downtown housing or a third hotel.

"The people" are not always right, but their opinions do matter. If opposition stays this strong, and the city goes ahead with the plans anyway, that will put success of the project in great doubt. At the least, the city has to do a much better job of selling the stadium. Some opposition will disappear or soften as more people think about some of the details -- that the project won't involve general property taxes, for example, that it will include more than just a stadium, that it will involve millions of dollars of private investment.

But 70 percent is an awfully strong number. What's needed even more than details is a compelling story of the vision behind the idea. Why will duplicating something we already have somewhere else bring people downtown? How does in make our city special to just copy what so many other cities are doing? Why is baseball the only catalyst project that was seriously considered?

Posted in: Our town


Dan Miller
Mon, 01/22/2007 - 8:37am

I no longer trust the low intellect of people in Fort Wayne. They hear bits and pieces of an initiative, and misunderstand a little bit more, and then they come to an anti-change conclusion.

When I read that there are actually people complaining about parking downtown I was stunned. A.) A vibrant downtown will treat the space downtown as valuable and put it towards actual attractions, rather than parking B.) Downtown Fort Wayne is 90% surface parking lots C.) By eliminating, not increasing, some surface lots downtown, we will actually not need as many, as there will be less distance to walk. D.) Stop being lazy; you should be walking miles per day anyway. Do you ever get a nice, cheap, convenient parking space in Chicago or Indy, for example...probably not.

Parking is a non-issue in this debate. This is a unique project in which several parts are reliant on each other. By taking one part out (the ballpark, for example), the entire project is destroyed, as the presence of retail, residential units, hotel, tourism, attractions all depend on each other.

This is an amazing opportunity, and even as a Republican I believe Graham Richard has finally produced the great plan for Fort Wayne's future. This is it. We will look back on this year as a turning point for downtown.

Mon, 01/22/2007 - 9:21am

I think that the poll results indicate that people don't understand the project, and unfortunately, that is registered as an 'against' response. The article mentions that when people are told that no property taxes are being used, they usually soften their stance. I know this is true from personal experience as well and I also know that there are still too many people who think it's "coming out of my dollar". It's a shame that the fact of not using property taxes is mentioned as an aside or as a minor point when the topic is brought up. It is a HUGE point that needs to STAND OUT. There is a proposal for more than $100 million dollars to be spent in Fort Wayne, with at least half of that being private money, and of the public money being utilized, property taxes aren't increasing! I'm a 22 year old college student and before Harrison Square was announced, I was looking for other cities to jettison to after I graduated. However, this project shows that the city is willing to invest in itself in order to become a better city for the future. The city wants to take a chance at being exciting and lively and turn itself around, and I'm excited about the possibilities. It doesn't matter that its baseball being utilized, even though I am a huge fan of the game, it's the fact that Fort Wayne wants to DO SOMETHING with its many plans and proposals. Now, to answer your questions. First of all, this project is not duplicating something we already have. There's no room for comparison between a $30 million ballpark and a $6 million stadium. Memorial Stadium was built in a hurry in order to draw the team from Kenosha. That hurried approach is evident in the drab, uninspiring, concrete block currently sitting in the Coliseum parking lot. I think the Wizards deserve a better home, and some people don't, which is fine.
Secondly, we are not just copying what other cities are doing. How many other cities are investing over $100 million in multi-use complexes with retail, condos, hotels, parking garages, and ballparks? Some are, but most are not. Most cities are doing ballpark-only projects in bad locations and then scratching their heads when there's no economic activity generated. Also, each ballpark is distinct and unique. I've been to over a dozen MLB parks and each one has its own characteristics, attributes, and charms that are particular to that ballpark only. The best ballparks are integrated into and represent their communities and neighborhoods, something Memorial Stadium cannot claim.
Why was baseball chosen as the catalyst? For insight into that decision, I'd suggest reading the Blueprint Plus Final Report and the BaseballPLUS Committee Report, which are both available at the blog my brother and I created (out of sheer excitement for this project), located at http://downtownfortwaynebaseball.blogspot.com

Steve Towsley
Mon, 01/22/2007 - 10:46am

Any competent city planner can tell you why big cities don't have enough parking. It's because they grew haphazardly in a disorganized patchwork. And every new urban area in which planners get in early addresses the old sprawl's shortcomings.

Proponents of the current scheme only insult Fort Wayne residents when they talk about having to "educate" the people or "sell" the people or convince them a downtown complex is good with insufficient parking.

Ask any movie theater developer, for example, if he or she would build a new complex that attracts a crowd of hundreds to the venue -- without providing the parking.

It's the same thing here. If there's one universal and long-standing opinion in this region about the disadvantages of spending time in downtown Fort Wayne, it's the lack of parking.

If this were Southern California, the suggestion of long walks as a panacea for the people's complaint might not sound quite so ignorant.

The people ARE the city. On a project as significant as redesigning the fabric of downtown, you don't educate the people. They educate you.

Larry Morris
Mon, 01/22/2007 - 11:40am

"I no longer trust the low intellect of people in Fort Wayne." and "I think that the poll results indicate that people don't understand the project"
Yeah, boy, I'll tell you what, ... that's why I left Ft. Wayne, just couldn't stand being around ignorant people.

Mon, 01/22/2007 - 2:12pm

Yeah, the "people's stadium," alright. The people who speculated in land downtown decades ago who are trying to unload it. That's who's driving the whole downtown renovation discussion. The media served as their PR lapdog the last time these folks proposed a downtown sports venue, never questioning who owned the property or why the owners weren't willing to invest their own money in the idea if it's such a great one.

As for we the people -- the taxpaying public -- I'd say it's pretty remarkable that seventy percent are smart enough to recognize the shell game when they're told the public money behind it doesn't really come from their tax dollars. And that a seasonal venue that really doesn't attract a whole lot of people anyway won't transform downtown into Boul Mich.

Residences downtown -- that would generate retail shopping, but the critical mass of residential building that would be required is not likely to occur anytime soon. People look at all the downtown residential development in Indy (and it is truly remarkable) but here's the reason it's happening: A substantial number of people work in downtown Indy and the commutes these days from the 'burbs are unbearable.

No matter where you are in Allen County, the commutes are never more than twenty minutes to a half hour to downtown from the outskirts. And virtually nobody works downtown.

Those who remember the days when downtown was a bustling retail center should also remember the days when downtown was an abandoned, boarded-up, filthy pit of a place and consider just how far it has come. It is what it is, and for a rustbelt midwestern town it's pretty awesome.

I know someone who gives tours of our beautiful historic courthouse (that was renovated with private dollars, I might add). He was amazed one day when a couple from Michigan drove down for a tour and commented on what a beautiful downtown area we have. It says something when people with no biases can see what we've got but our own citizens, fed a steady diet of negativity by the media, do not.

Jeff Pruitt
Tue, 01/23/2007 - 11:27am

The idea being perpetuated that without the stadium we just can't revitalize the downtown area is hogwash and intellectually lazy.

Are we to believe that THE ONLY way to draw people downtown is through a stadium? What about the myriads of cities that have thriving downtown areas w/o stadiums? Are they all anomolies? As the post suggests, the only idea that was even really considered was a stadium - why? The entire process was driven by the question - Can a baseball stadium help revitalize downtown?

And they found the answer to be yes. My response is - so what. The real question should've been - What is the most efficient and cost effective way to revitalize downtown?

Why was the latter approach not taken? Well there's a lot of money involved here and THAT is where the public should be looking for answers because the fix has been in since the beginning on this one...

Tue, 01/23/2007 - 12:13pm

The decision to use sports downtown goes back before 2000, when a downtown arena was proposed. I would guess that before 2000 there were discussions about what could revitalize downtown and sports was chosen. I don't know when this could have occurred, however. Maybe Leo Morris could help us out here?

Tue, 01/23/2007 - 1:26pm

The last downtown arena was being hyped by Bob Walters, Dick Waterfield and Gary Probst if I'm not mistaken. It was never divulged by the press that these gentleman had a financial stake in the land it was going to be built on. Instead they were hailed as Fort Wayne's great new visionaries or some such hyperbole. Mr. Probst, by the way, jacked the price on the land that became the courthouse green, an unsightly jumble of dilapidated buildings that had been vacant for decades. Some great community leader he is. He could have afforded to donate it. Instead a real community leader, the late and great Ione Auer, paid his absurd price and donated it.

The current effort is also highly suspicious. What does sports have to do with it? It makes good cover for a ploy tby well-connected individuals to sell the city some land nobody wants. That's right. I said the city. Which is to say the taxpayer.

William Larsen
Tue, 01/23/2007 - 3:53pm

Spending $100 million on a stadium and infrastructure will do what? What kind of income do we expect? If we are looking at taxes (state of 3.4% or local at 1%) how much in sales do we have to have to recoup $100 million? Then there is up keep. Up keep costs about 2% a year, but how much will they set aside yearly to pay the bill when it comes? Just look at Ft Wayne Community Schools. Build schools, but never accrual maintenance costs. Just pass the bill onto those twenty and thirty years later.

We have a stadium and I doubt you will double the turnout if it were down town. We have all the businesses that build around the stadium by the coliseum. What happens to them if it were built down town?

Is it possible that those who own the land are trying to unload it? Is it any different than stockbrokers recommending a stock they already own? If it were great, they would keep it secret and continue to buy more.

Fort Wayne and Allen County should not waste one penny on the stadium. If those who want one want it badly enough, then they can organize, raise and pay for it themselves.

Our representatives should shelve this idea. There is no support for it and they are wasting our money debating it while more pressing issued go un resolved.

Steve Towsley
Tue, 01/23/2007 - 4:46pm

>It was never divulged by the press that these
> gentleman had a financial stake in the land
>it was going to be built on.

>Instead they were hailed as Fort Wayne's
>great new visionaries or some such hyperbole.

>Mr. Probst, by the way, jacked the price on the
>land that became the courthouse green, an
>unsightly jumble of dilapidated buildings
>that had been vacant for decades. Some great
>community leader he is. He could have
>afforded to donate it.

Two well-known bits of wisdom come to my mind regarding the above:

1. Hindsight is 20/20 (a fortunate thing in any skulduggery as described above), and
2. Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it.

We sure don't need people with holdings or interests in the affected properties stealthily influencing the outcome.

Legally speaking, the people of Fort Wayne have the right to expect all such parties to recuse themselves from any official influential capacity and to make full disclosure of their interests. Any inside stakeholder should not need our underlining the point to remind him or her to do so, of course, as this is SOP for public servants to stay out of jail these days in major conflicts of interest. There's too much heat on this to hope nobody would notice an irregularity. And it's mighty tough for a profiteer to enjoy a self-made windfall from lock-up.

Steve Towsley
Sun, 01/28/2007 - 8:19pm


I really had to shake my head in amazement today as I scanned the Journal-Gazette opinion piece in which Tracy Warner talks about the critics of the downtown ball stadium as the "skeptics."

I wonder when was the last time that Fort Wayne judged a 70% negative conclusion among informed city residents as "skepticism."

By that measure, President Bush has a freaking mandate for the troop surge in Iraq, complete with ticker tape parade. What have the Democrats got to whine about, with a lousy 68% polling of "skepticism?" We've only got a piddling 70% skepticism against a downtown ballpark..... so what the he**, let's break some ground!!!