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What's really happening with riverfront development? Fort Wayne business owner speaks out on 'deals with no real strategy'

"Development can be a good thing. But only within a well-defined comprehensive plan to ensure all parts work in unison."
What's really happening with riverfront development? Fort Wayne business owner speaks out on 'deals with no real strategy'

You've heard...

DOMO Development is proposing a $1.5 billion project for the Bloomingdale neighborhood, Pepsi property and North River. We're still gathering information for a story about what's happening there between neighbors, developers and the city. In the meantime, we've uncovered insights and updates about the Wells Street Corridor nearby.

  • You might remember: Wells Street has long been one of the city's most unique, diverse and affordable corridors into Downtown, home to classics, like Klemm's on Wells, Hyde Bros Booksellers, La Michoacana and more. Now, it's becoming a center of interest for the city and private developers as riverfront growth extends north.
  • Within the last week: Wells Street made headlines when the city acquired the former Big Apple Pizza and Richard’s Bakery building at 1130 N. Wells St. for $800K. The 1900s masonry building is well-suited to mixed-use development, which Well Street's urban corridor zoning is intended to protect. But neighbors fear the city will demolish it to integrate new development into the area. The city also broke ground on construction of More Brewing Company's restaurant and brewpub on North River property nearby.
  • We received: the following statement from Wells Street small business owner and community advocate Dan Wire in response to (separate) developments happening by the city and those proposed by DOMO.

Wire says:

I have three perspectives as we all look forward to continued growth of our community which often includes brick-and-mortar development:

Overview - Where is the new comprehensive plan for riverfront development? Our initial efforts were well coordinated from a master plan. The last few years have simply been "deals" with no real strategy of what we want all new development to contribute toward. Example: The More Brewhouse between Fourth Street and the river has no real value or purpose into the whole North River development possibilities. It's simply a stand-alone business deal that very likely will be "in the way" of any serious well planned growth on the north side of the river.

First, as 'Downtown' development spreads across the St. Mary's River to the north (just like Downtown growth did in the mid 1800's), it's critical that new development buildings fit the scale and character of the neighborhood. The Wells Corridor was the first in the city to enact urban corridor zoning, focused on maintaining the historic character and business feel of the street. The proposals by DOMO and our own Community Development department support towering buildings next to the river, violating the corridor zoning guidelines and blocking the view of everyone else. Think Miami, FL, and the high rises obscuring the beaches view and use for most. Chattanooga, TN, one of the cities our officials visited, including myself, got it right in keeping massive buildings at least a block away from the river. People get to use their riparian environment as well the built environment with EVERYONE enjoying the rivers. Too much steel and glass loses the reason they are there.

Second, it is the historic Wells Corridor and the historic Bloomingdale neighborhood the proposal is planned to be located in. It's puzzling why there is active property appraisals in this area on behalf of our own Community Development department. The intent seems to be to purchase and tear down existing historic structures and destroy the unique feel of the area. Exactly what this department meant to preserve with the urban corridor zoning designation. Again, where is the plan? These are just 'deals' made in a vacuum.

Third, we've learned from the city visits and textbooks on the subject that gentrification of urban neighborhoods will destroy the fabric of service workers needed to support the new built businesses. Crowding too deep into the neighborhoods on the north side of the river with steel and glass structures will displace the service industry workers so needed to support that development. Where is the plan to preserve housing stock and affordable living units during the growth of downtown so it is equitable for ALL?

Finally, often the best development for an area is exactly what is already there. Some of the riverfront property needs to stay a well-preserved riparian corridor for wildlife and civic life alike. Some historic business and housing areas need to stay, as is, to provide that unique "feel" everyone wants to "visit" and enjoy.

Development can be a good thing. But only within a well-defined comprehensive plan to ensure all parts work in unison.

In response...

We asked the City of Fort Wayne's Community Development department for an interview about the relationships between neighbors, developers and the city on riverfront development. They declined and sent the following statement:

Community Development and Redevelopment are planning a meeting with the Bloomingdale neighborhood and Wells Street Business Association in the coming weeks. We have coordinated similar meetings in the past in this area with neighborhood leaders, developers, business owners, and city staff to provide updates on development activities in the neighborhood and solicit input from residents and key stakeholders. Acquiring the 1130 N. Wells property is key to ensuring that our investments in Riverfront connect to and support our existing neighborhoods and commercial centers. The proposed purchase improves our ability to work with the community and developers on a great design for the site. 

The most up-to-date, public "Riverfront Comprehensive Plan" can be found here.

DOMO Development's team has been contacted for an interview, but no response was provided by Monday night.