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Dec. 12, 2023 | How likely is passenger rail service in Fort Wayne?

Dec. 12, 2023 | How likely is passenger rail service in Fort Wayne?

Hey Locals,

Just in time for the holidays, Fort Wayne received the gift of a $500,000 federal grant to study restored passenger rail service to Chicago, IL; Columbus, OH; and Pittsburgh, PA. But before you pack your bags, we talk with local experts to learn about the likelihood of it happening, how soon and whether it will be high-speed rail.

We also update you on the urban chicken debate, and we learn about efforts by Councilwoman Michelle Chambers to address affordable housing in the city.

Don't miss our spotlight on local artist Julie Wall of The Hedge, who shares why it's important to buy from local makers, not just during the holidays, but all year!

Don't forget: This month, all paid subscribers to The Local get a FREE draft beer with any food purchase at the Green Frog. Upgrade today for just $3 your first month to get in on our monthly deals, which help your newsletter pay for itself in local freebies.

Now, let's get started!

Talk of the Week

The top story we're following.

How likely is passenger rail service in Fort Wayne?

From 1914-1990, Amtrak operated out of Baker Street Station in Downtown Fort Wayne. Could it happen again?

What's happening?

After about 14 years of work to restore passenger rail service to Fort Wayne, local advocates have successfully secured a federal grant of up to $500,000 to begin preliminary studies for their Midwest Connect Passenger Rail Corridor project. But whether it will happen still depends on a few factors...

  • You might remember: the five-state, 543-mile Midwest Connect route runs from Chicago, IL, to Pittsburgh, PA, through Fort Wayne and Columbus, OH.
  • What makes this route special? “Fort Wayne and Columbus are the two largest cities in the Midwest — and among the largest in the country — without any form of passenger rail, and they’re both on this line, so it’s long overdue in our opinion," says President of the Northeast Indiana Passenger Rail Association (NIPRA) Fred Lanahan.
  • So what happens next? NIPRA, the City of Fort Wayne and their partners across the Midwest will use this $500,000 grant to compile a scope of work and detailed Service Development Plan (SDP) for the Midwest Connect route to present to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). Then the FRA will determine if our project is worthy of additional federal funding.
  • So far: Fort Wayne's Midwest Connect route is one of 69 national passenger rail projects (and four in Indiana) to receive grant funding from the FRA for step one of a three-step process to completion.
  • It's still unclear: how many projects from this initial 69 the FRA will grant additional federal funding for engineering (step two) and construction (step three).
  • If the Midwest Connect route is chosen: federal funding would cover 90 percent of its engineering costs and 80 percent of its construction costs – with the rest coming from the state and local government or organizations, like NIPRA.

Why it matters

Along with helping you get to places, like Chicago or Pittsburgh, faster and car-free, the Midwest Connect could be a game changer regionally because it would bridge urban and rural communities, alleviate crowded interstates and fuel economic development through job creation, among other benefits.

So... what are the chances it will happen? And will it be high-speed rail?

We sat down with Lanahan and Spoelhof to find out in our Deeper Dive!

Small Talk

Two quick updates.

  • City Council will likely reject the opportunity to allow urban chickens in Fort Wayne. In a 7-2 preliminary vote last week, all members except bill sponsor Jason Arp (R-4th) and Paul Ensley (R-1st) voted against the measure, saying they received complaints about the possibility of allowing chickens within city limits. Councilwoman Sharon Tucker (D-6th) who originally supported the bill said her Southeast district already has a problem with illegally owned chickens where "the birds have gotten loose and become a nuisance." Arp pointed out that all five boroughs of New York City allow urban chickens along with Chicago, Indianapolis, Detroit and other cities. He and Ensley support the measure as a "freedom" for residents and a homesteading practice, following grocery shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic. When it comes to issues with loose hens, Arp compared the situation to prohibition. "A lot of people had illegally provided unsafe alcohol during prohibition, but that problem went away after it was legalized," The JG reports. Members will cast final votes at tonight's meeting, but the outcome is unlikely to change.
  • City Councilwoman Michelle Chambers is making good on her campaign promise to improve affordable housing conditions in Fort Wayne. In December 2022, Chambers introduced a successful ordinance to incentivize affordable housing development throughout the city (instead of only within economically disadvantaged areas). Tonight, she plans to introduce another ordinance to provide a five-year tax abatement for people who buy certain homes within economically disadvantaged areas. WANE 15 details her plans, which will go before Council tonight for an introductory vote.

What else? School bus driver shortages. New census data on local incomes. And major improvements at a local college. We cover it all in our premium newsletter.

Local Spotlight

Meet Julie Wall, a local artist, who owns the Hedge studio and shop Downtown.

Julie Wall owns The Hedge at 1016 Broadway.

What's happening?

We catch up with local artist Julie Wall, who shares her take on Fort Wayne's evolving culture, why shopping small matters all year and what she's up to at her art studio/shop called The Hedge at 1016 Broadway.

  • Fun fact: Wall's family has owned two popular businesses in Fort Wayne: a trophy and awards shop Downtown called La Hartz (now closed) and the Roller Dome North (going on 73 years).
  • Currently: She is building on her family's legacy by using her background in printmaking and metals to make art, like stationery, jewelry, candles and trophies with snarky sayings, which she assembles and sells at her shop Downtown.
  • When you visit: do some holiday shopping, and ask Wall about her all-ages art workshops on printing presses from the 1800s in her studio! Her space itself is also an 1800s gem, known as the Canton Laundry building.
  • Need a cool Airbnb? Wall rents an artsy loft above her shop called The Bird's Nest to out-of-town guests and to locals hosting small events, like photoshoots and parties.

Learn more in our full interview here.

To do list

Three of our favorite things to do this week.

  • Eat: drool-worthy Detroit-style pizza at the grand opening of Dom's Pie Shop tomorrow at 4 p.m. at Draft Taproom at 1833 Wells Street. Dom's is a new venture by Shop Two Sixty Bagels, and it will be open for dinner hours only this week, starting at 4 p.m. with special promos for the first customers.
  • Attend: local artist Sachi's Big Year fiber arts show on Friday from 6-9 p.m. at The Dash-In.
  • Start: making plans for NYE in Fort Wayne! Penny Drip is selling Early Bird tickets for its event, beginning at 9 p.m., featuring DJ Dap One & DJ MSG along with drink specials, a martini luge, an outdoor ice bar, caviar bumps and more. Cheers!

What else? We recommend six more things to do in our premium newsletter.

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Got a story tip or idea?

Let us know at thelocalfortwayne@gmail.com.

Have a great week, Locals!

-Your Editor, Kara Hackett