Developer: Crime deters business on southeast side

Commercial and retail voids line many areas listed as prime for development in southeast Fort Wayne.

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — Why aren’t more businesses locating in southeast Fort Wayne? An independent Fort Wayne developer said there’s no one reason. But he said crime serves as a major deterrent.

Don Steininger has been a Fort Wayne developer since 1977.  He helped bring the Chapel Ridge Shopping Center to the northeast side of the city and is currently working as an independent.  15 Finds Out caught up with Steininger as part of its investigative series looking into the progress and concerns southeast.

The majority of Fort Wayne’s homicides take place southeast. So far, Mayor Tom Henry (D-Fort Wayne), John Urbahns with Greater Fort Wayne Inc., and City Councilman Glynn Hines (D-6th District) have all told 15 Finds Out crime does not deter development.

But as a developer, Steininger disagrees.

“I’m not sure why they would say that crime is not a deterrent. It just has to be,” Steininger said. “You’ve got to have a critical mass and you’ve got to have safety in order for people to really feel comfortable to go there.”

He continued, “If I’m going to have an armed guard here everyday or have to worry about a clerk who’s going to get mugged, I’m going to think twice about whether I want to put a store here.”

Councilman: Developers get an “F” southeast

Because of the empty lots and lack of new development in southeast Fort Wayne, 15 Finds Out discovered many who aren’t giving high marks toward the Southeast Area Development Strategy, a 10-year vision to revitalize the area. Although, there has been significant public and private investment following the strategy.

“The first person we want to blame, is we always want to blame the developers. ‘Well why don’t they come here?’ Then lets blame the city. ‘Why doesn’t the city do something to make it happen?’ I think the one that is truly where it’s got to start is the people that live here,” Steininger said.

The veteran developer pointed to city crews tearing down a building on the corner of Hanna and Pontiac Streets Monday morning, saying blight removal is a great first step. Steininger thinks there are good people trying to resurrect the southeast side, but he said tall grass and trash don’t make great first impressions for businesses.

“If you take real pride in your community, find somebody, go over there, keep it clean, keep it mowed, pick up the trash,” Steininger said. “Don’t just sit back on your front porch and wait for somebody to come rescue you. That’s not the answer.”

He continued, “Developers, we’re not social workers. We’re in the business of developing something because we believe it makes sense and we believe we can get a return on our dollar.”

The developer thinks the city can do a better job cleaning up after it tears down blighted buildings by leveling out the lot and planting grass for land owners to maintain.

When looking at the millions of dollars scheduled for riverfront development near downtown Fort Wayne, Steininger thinks residents southeast have legitimate concerns.

“I know there’s a lot of people in southeast Fort Wayne saying how could you put all that money in riverfront development when we can use that here. I think that’s a very good argument,” he said. “I think the problem we have now is there isn’t any one definitive project that in fact you can point to and show that it is going to be successful and show exactly what you can get for the money, similar to what we’ve done at riverfront.”

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