Opposition turns to opportunity with ‘Harrison Square’ project

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – The 2014 Indiana Republican Party State Convention will be holding some of its events at Parkview Field while its in Fort Wayne.

“It was a no-brainer,” Steve Shine, the Allen County GOP chairman and organizer of the convention in Fort Wayne, said. “This complex is one of the main reasons why the State Republican Conference decided to relocate to Fort Wayne.”

Having two hotels attached to the Grand Wayne Center has helped attract conventions to Fort Wayne.
Having two hotels attached to the Grand Wayne Center has helped attract conventions to Fort Wayne.

Parkview Field, the Courtyard by Marriott hotel and The Harrison apartment complex once made up the project known as Harrison Square. It was proposed to city council in 2007 by then-mayor Graham Richard.

“We had a unique investment opportunity for a public-private investment in downtown Fort Wayne that would leverage additional investments,” Richard said. “I really believed from the moment we began this project it would be successful. It had worked in so many other places.”

Not everyone shared Richard’s enthusiasm or optimism. Many people didn’t think a baseball diamond would work in a downtown area. They didn’t think there was any reason to change what was a “perfectly good” stadium where the Wizards played by the Coliseum. One business’s marquee even said, “Build it and we won’t come.”

Many people also didn’t think tens of millions of taxpayer dollars should be spent on a minor league sport. City councilman Tom Smith (R-Dist 1) said 70 to 80 percent of his constituents were against the project.

“I voted no because my constituents wanted me to vote no,” Smith said. Friday. “I’m just glad my vote didn’t stop it.”

Smith said he never really had an issue with the project itself and calls it a great success now.

“Look at what it’s doing for downtown. You have the Ash and Bean project. I would never have thought that the catalytic effect of Parkview Field Harrison Square would have an impact as quickly as it did,” Smith said.

Mike Nutter, the TinCaps president, remembers how much animosity there was at the beginning.

“The venom was staggering to be honest,” Nutter said. “We got calls to hour house with expletives on our home answering machine. But at the same time, and I don’t mean this with an ego, we didn’t doubt the process.”

Nutter said many conventions call to find out the game schedule so its guests can go to a game after meetings. At the same time, other groups, like the GOP convention, want days when the team is out of town.

“So they can do concerts or other events here. We want this place rocking when the team is out of town,” Nutter said.

Last year, not counting all the home baseball games, there were 612 events at Parkview Field that brought in nearly 100,000 people.

The expense is also already paying off, Nutter said.

“Of that city fund that was set up, they had to raise X number of dollars, we’ve funded it to 150 percent of what folks thought never could be done,” Nutter said. “Some said after one year the newness would wear off and we would tank. Year five, last year, was the best year we’ve ever had.”

The ballpark’s biggest event to date is coming up in two weeks with the Florida Georgia Line concert. More than 13,000 tickets sold out in one day.

“We came together as a community and came up with something really valuable for economic development, for downtown development, to retain and gain jobs and for encouraging people to say great things about Fort Wayne,” Richard said.

Shine agreed that the Harrison Square project is a big draw for events.

“If we did not have a complex such as this with The Harrison, Parkview Field, Embassy and Grand Wayne Center, conventions of the magnitude of the State Republican Party would not be here. It’s good for Fort Wayne and has enhanced our reputation not only throughout the midwest but nationally,” Shine said.

 

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