Packed house for Riverfront Study meeting

Current Drought Watch Values

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – It was standing-room only for a public meeting about riverfront development at the downtown Fort Wayne library Thursday. SWA Group, a Houston-based company, is presenting initial results of its study on the rivers.

The research was done in December. At first glance, the consultants said they see a lot of potential for the riverfront areas in Fort Wayne, including retail, entertainment and even a marina. They said the biggest challenge will be improving water quality and making the development work all year long.

The meeting Thursday is an opportunity to hear from the consultants and for the public to give their ideas for development projects. There were two opportunities for everyone to write down their concerns about the rivers and their ideas for what they’d like to see. The committee is still encouraging feedback.

People can learn more about development plans and give their thoughts by clicking here. 

Fort Wayne has 720 acres for potential development around the three rivers that run through the city. SWA Group president Kinder Baumgardner said that’s a lot of space to work with and he thinks Fort Wayne has great potential. He added that as development happens, it will become catalysts for developers to want to continue to expand and build more.

“The opportunity is huge,” he said. “Rather than doing a little river, [all the land] lets us embrace the areas adjacent to it too.”

Baumgardner said Fort Wayne is at a “tipping point” and was encouraged by the big turnout at the meeting.

“You guys are an enthusiastic bunch, which means it’s a great chance something will happen here. It’s one thing to plan, but it’s another to implement and then after it’s built, we need people to go and use it,” he said.

One big concern is still water quality. The city is working on improving the combined sewer overflows, but some of the quality issues also come from industrialized farms and feed lots upstream.

“Parts of three states are connecting to our rivers. [The farms] can make little changes to how they operate now that will change that water quality in the next years. We did that in Houston. We changed how water quality is done by making little changes upstream and as people start using the river they’re going to demand these sorts of things and that’s going to change how the water works,” Baumgardner said.

Education about the water is also key.

“There are guys out there now on paddle boards and other guys saying you can’t touch the water,” he said. “If you touch the water it’s probably not going to kill you. There are definitely some health issues associated with it, but people need to understand the magnitude of the health issue so they can make informed decisions about how they want to use it and what is and isn’t acceptable.” 

This was the first of several public meetings. Baumgardner and his group will come back in July with the a “rough-draft” of some feasible options. The team will take the input and ideas from the public and work with engineers and other experts to make it fit in a way that is actually possible. People can then voice what they like and what they don’t like.

There was an evening meeting scheduled for Wednesday night, but it was canceled because of the weather. The times for the next visit in July haven’t been released yet.

Jonathan  Kaufman lives along the river. He had planned to go to the evening meeting, but took off work to make it Thursday.

“The rivers are a great resource for our city. I enjoy the rivers. I do the Rivergreenway a lot and kayak a lot. I think a lot of young people would enjoy that more and want to be on the rivers. I think the rivers are an asset people can utilize more and bring more people to the city to help Fort Wayne grow,” he said.

Kaufman said he’d like to see more access points along the river.

“I can put the kayak in by my house, but I’d like more places to get out and walk around for a while and then get back in,” he said. “There are a lot of neat ideas with shops and retail. I think it’s exciting.”

Sandy Baker was impressed with the turnout at the meeting. A former EMT, she’s concerned about accessibility.

“You are going to have people from all walks of life and all different health issues and unless [emergency responders] have a way of accessing these people they have a problem,” she said.

No layouts or drafts of designs have been made yet. The project is still in the idea phase.

“My son is in a wheelchair and he’d like to go out and enjoy this, but without the accessibility, he can’t do it,” Baker said.

One goal is to have activities year-round, making the rivers fun in the winter too.

“I think the warming huts are a wonderful idea,” Baker added. “Since it’s an ongoing project I think they have a lot of work to do, but there were some interesting ideas presented and overall I think the meeting was helpful for a lot of people.”

Jeff Thomas drove from Van Wert, Ohio to be at the meeting.

“We do a lot of business here and we care about Fort Wayne,” he said. “I thought it was awesome. There were a lot of ideas. It’s a very good firm the city hired”

Thomas operates Lincoln Ridge Farms in Convoy.

“An open-air market or possibly a  year-round market. It would be good for the community,” he said.

SWA Group anticipates having final plans in place by January 2015.

The city of Fort Wayne is using $500,000 of the Legacy money to pay for the SWA Group’s services.

The following are some of the concerns and ideas submitted by the public at the meeting:

* More public access points
* Waste reduction into river
* Dams impair fish migration
* Need more gathering places
* Water quality/toxicity
* Protect Rivergreenway
* Rid rivers of rip rap
* Wildlife protection
* Talk about it as three rivers not just one river
* Too much debris in rivers
* Build connections to southern downtown
* Improve visibility of rivers
* Riverfest should be moved downtown
* Expand old Omni Source site
* Nightlife
* Family focused fun activities
* Focus on local shops
* Boat ramps and fishing pier
* Gardens along the trail; retail that fits with gardening
* Ski-Doo and rollerblade rentals
* Open air markets
* Festivals
* Inner-city rapid rafting
* People movers and ways to get around
* Beach

The following are ideas that Baumgardner presented that the SWA Group had been brainstorming:

For in the Winter:

* River lighting
* Hot chocolate festival
* Warming huts
* Seasonal events

For in the Summer:
*Floating party platforms
*Creative spaces for small businesses
* Gallery spaces
* Urban housing
*Eco district
*Riverside paths
*Porch swing grove
*River thicket birders
*Riverfront promenade
*Dining and retail
* Street-side dining
*Dragon boating
*Urban trails
*Long reach rowing
*Boat builders guild
*Fort Wayne beach – doesn’t have to touch the water
*Beach bonfires
* Adventure play
* Picnic grounds and a picnic provisions store so people don’t have to pack their own blankets and food
* City camp
* Weekend market
* Scultpture/art
* Exercise
* Viewing tower
* Community space
* Mixed use community
* Public gardens
* Boot camp
* Mobile running shop
* Bocce ball, bowlers, other “yard” games
* Fly-casting golf
* Fort Wayne Flyers use space around rivers
* Found art events
* Elephant washing station (which got a good laugh from the audience)



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