15 Finds Out: Southeast Report Card

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — They’re neighborhoods full of loyalty, the location for the majority of the city’s homicides, and the focal point of newfound frustration coming to a boiling point this election season. That frustration revolves around mixed reviews toward a plan for southeast Fort Wayne.

In 2006, city leaders and hundreds of community members teamed up on a bold plan: The Southeast Area Development Strategy.  The city officially launched the 10-year vision in July of 2007.

See the Southeast Area Development Strategy

The plan highlighted nine areas ideal for commercial and retail development, saying most of the locations “are areas where public resources can be leveraged for appropriate development.” These commercial opportunity corridors include:

  • Anthony Boulevard from Wayne Trace south to the City Limits
  • Creighton Avenue Corridor
  • Pontiac Street Corridor
  • Oxford Street Corridor
  • Southtown Centre
  • Old Decatur Road Commercial Area
  • Former South Anthony Target Store Site
  • K-Mart South Retail Center
  • Casselwood Plaza Center

The plan also anticipated 400 new homes for the Renaissance Pointe project, recommended new incentives, and encouraged new policies.

The Positives

The sounds of city crews building an urban garden echo one of the many positives that have come about after the study. Other positives include:

  • Street and sidewalk improvements
  • New street lights
  • Facade grants
  • Blight control
  • New zoning and tax abatements
  • A new office for Parkview Hospital
  • The Renaissance Pointe YMCA
  • 66 new homes at Renaissance Pointe

More improvements are on the horizon as well. City leaders pointed to a $25 million public project that plans to move Anthony Blvd. underneath the railroad at Wayne Trace. Almost $20 million in renovations are heading toward the former Eden Green apartments on Creighton Avenue.

Lifeline Data Centers bought the old Target building across from Southtown Plaza. It will create 10 new IT jobs and hopes to be a magnet for 100 more IT positions.

15 Finds Out asked city leaders how they would would grade themselves eight years into the strategy.

“If you look at the goals that we set out to achieve, I’d give us an ‘A’ because I believe this is a strategy and a big part of it was the tools and making those tools available,” said Pam Holocher, deputy director of community development.

Heather Presley-Cowen had a similar answer. She’s the city’s deputy director of housing and neighborhood services.

“Considering we said in Renaissance Point alone would take 10 years to get 70 million dollars worth of investment and we’ve already seen $50 [million], ‘A+’,” she said.

“Not enough has been done”

But community leaders in southeast Fort Wayne give drastically different grades: Anywhere from a ‘B-‘ to a ‘C’.

Driving around the nine areas listed as ideal for development, there isn’t a lot of new retail and commercial projects. Empty lots line the Pontiac Street Corridor. The old police department is abandoned and overgrown on Creighton Avenue.

Another lot sits empty near Southtown Plaza, which has recently been offered up for free by Mayor Tom Henry. And K-Mart has closed.

“Still, not enough has been done,” said John Dortch, president of the Southeast Business Advisory Group. He was appointed to the position by Mayor Tom Henry.

The group is trying to attract a sit-down restaurant, a hotel, a small manufacturing company, and a medical clinic that’s open until midnight.  The first Dortch heard of the Southeast Area Development Strategy was when 15 Finds Out showed it to him earlier in 2015.

“In talking with people, many of them do not agree with me even saying the grade of a ‘C’. They feel less than that, because they feel not enough has been done in terms of businesses and in terms of relationships with the city,” he said. “What appears to be what’s happening is not working.”

Anthony Ridley is usually the first to point out positives in his community. He’s president of the southeast area partnership and represents all neighborhoods in that side of Fort Wayne.

But Ridley thinks the city hasn’t done enough to bring public-private partnerships in his area.

“They’re trying do the best they can but the city has fallen short on getting the investment here,” Ridley said. “There’s not enough jobs around here to supply the kids so they have something to do. There are a lot of good kids walking down the street wanting to work. They can’t find work because there’s nowhere to work near to them.”

The best “environment” for businesses

When asked if the city is doing enough to implement the strategy, Holocher said “Of course.”  She and Presley-Cowen said the city’s role in the study is to create the best environment for businesses to come in, which they think has been done perfectly according to the grade they gave themselves.

“We want to see development happen. But without the private sector, it’s not going to happen. The city is not going to go out there and invest all of the money it takes to develop something because that doesn’t prove there’s a market,” Presley-Cowen said.

She continued, “We stepped in. We did what government can do. We spent resources there in time, talent, and treasures, and as a result today we’ve seen, well in the southeast quadrant we’ve seen in the order of $50 million in private investment. That is a huge leap toward the opportunity to see hotels get interested.”

The community development leaders then pointed 15 Finds Out to Greater Fort Wayne Inc. to find out why more businesses aren’t moving southeast.

Updating the Strategy

Still, in order for the study to be truly effective, the strategy states “it must be evaluated and updated” by the “Southeast Strategy Action Team,” which was formed eight years ago and filled with city and community leaders.

When 15 Finds Out asked if that has been happening, Holocher said, “We don’t formally meet anymore. Depending upon what the topic is or what we’re talking about we just really meet individually with various people in the southeast.”

Local barber and community activist Lewis King was on the committee. He said he didn’t think the team existed anymore. King’s comments further reflect a perceived disconnect between city leaders and members of the southeast community.

But when bringing up the study, 15 Finds Out discovered one thing in which both sides agree: It’s time to update the strategy.

“I believe that we should revisit the strategy again. I would love to be a part of the strategy,” King said. “I believe that those things are very necessary to keep the city government in tune with what’s going on in the community.”

Holocher agreed. “It hasn’t quite been 10 years, but we’re at a time when so much has happened, that it is really time, and I know we have talked about it internally, about updating the strategy.”

15 Finds Out continues its investigative series Wednesday. Hear why leaders with Greater Fort Wayne Inc. say they will be focusing more attention southeast.

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