By Lisa Esquivel Long
FORT WAYNE — In 2018, Fort Wayne saw nearly 2,500 new job commitments, $115 million in new annual payroll, and a total private business investment of $336 million.
As part of creating a vibrant downtown where people can live, work and play, Fort Wayne residents and visitors will be treated to a three-day grand opening of Promenade Park, the first part of downtown’s riverfront development, that will include a band performing on the river, butterfly release and free boat rides.
Mayor Tom Henry highlighted the celebration, to start June 21 at the park under construction on Superior Street, and other accomplishments in his 12th annual State of the City speech, held Feb. 13 at the Grand Wayne Convention Center.
The theme for this year’s address was “Our Future is Now” and highlighted the growth that downtown is experiencing. Once a place that appeared deserted once employees went home, it now has several new restaurants, office buildings and residences, with more planned and currently under construction.
“The optimism and positive momentum we’re seeing are clear indications of why Fort Wayne’s future is now. Never before have I witnessed the confidence and passion about where we’re headed as a city,” according to Henry’s prepared remarks. “I continue to be inspired by the hopes and dreams for Fort Wayne. Today served as an opportunity to highlight our successes and achievements, acknowledge challenges facing our community, and look forward to great days ahead for residents, neighborhoods, and businesses.”
Highlights from his speech: Downtown development:
Promenade Park, which is phase I of Riverfront Fort Wayne, will open in June. Work on Phases 2 and 3 is underway to provide additional public spaces and future private investment to include dining, retail, and entertainment opportunities.
The Landing will open later this year with housing units and commercial and retail space.
Superior Lofts is open with 72 apartments as an adaptive re-use of a 1905 building.
Skyline Tower is open with apartments, a Ruth’s Chris Steak House, and First Merchants Bank.
The 136-room Hampton Inn & Suites by Hilton will open in July next to Parkview Field, and at Main and Harrison streets, work will begin later this year on a new hotel led by Provenance Hotels and Barbara Baekgaard.
The city will invest $31 million in neighborhood infrastructure enhancements, which will be a new record. Since 2014, Fort Wayne has made $130 million in improvements to streets, roads, sidewalks, alleys, curbs, and street lights.
Overall crime is down 15 percent. The Fort Wayne Police Department is adding 22 new police officers this year. The FWPD will continue to address homicides by adding more resources to the homicide unit. More personnel in the vice and narcotics unit will help in efforts to reduce drugs in Fort Wayne. The FWPD will also continue to lead and collaborate with partner agencies to fight drug addiction.
The Fort Wayne Fire Department will add 11 new firefighters this year. In addition, the FWFD has equipment upgrades, new technology, and additional training.
In addition to the riverfront development work, the city will make $3 million in improvements to its award-winning parks this year.
Construction on the deep rock tunnel project, the largest infrastructure project in Fort Wayne history to reduce combined sewer overflows and clean our rivers, continues. There will also be $115 million invested in dozens of projects with proactive solutions in neighborhoods and at the water and sewer treatment plants.
In the past year, Fort Wayne has been named a top city to move to by Reader’s Digest; the best place in Indiana to live by Business Insider and U.S. News and World Report; the lowest cost of living city for the third year in a row by Niche; the most affordable city for homeownership by SmartAsset; and one of the country’s best-run cities by WalletHub.
Henry gave special recognitions to Greg Leffler and Greg Leffler, Jr., with First Gear; Shep and Wendy Moyle with Shindigz; Monty Hamilton with Rural Sourcing; the TenPoint Coalition Foot Patrol Team; Susan Mendenhall and Dan Ross with Arts United; and Mike Mushett, Tom Trent, Lisa and Jake Czechowski, Cody Carmicle, and Matt Boyle with Turnstone.