Residents’ wants and needs discussed at riverfront meeting

Robert Chalfant holds up a white board with his idea for a riverfront sky tram. Residents were invited to share their ideas and feedback for the next stages of riverfront development at a public input meeting March 7. BRIDGETT HERNANDEZ

FORT WAYNE — Fort Wayne residents were invited to learn about the planning progress for the next phases of riverfront development at North Side High School March 7.

The school, situated on the bank of the St. Joseph River, was a fitting venue for the night – the waterway is even mentioned in the school song, North Side senior and class president Trinity Mitchell noted in her welcoming remarks.

At the school that “stands majestic by the stream,” residents filled the lower level of the auditorium for a presentation by David Rubin Land Collective, the landscape architecture and urban design firm contracted to lead the next phases of planning for Riverfront Fort Wayne.

Other members of the riverfront implementation team include: Agency Landscape + Planning, Beyer Blinder Belle, HR & A, Bruce Mau Design, One Lucky Guitar, Christopher B. Burke Engineering (CBBEL), DLZ, CE Solutions, MSKTD & Associates, Wilson Consulting and Dharam Consulting.

Phase 1 construction of Promenade Park is nearing completion on the south and north banks of the St. Marys River between Harrison Street and the Historic Wells Street Bridge. The city is planning a grand opening celebration for the nearly $20 million project June 21-23.

Now, the city is preparing for the next phases of riverfront development, a project that is expected to stretch along the St. Marys River from the Van Buren Street Bridge to the confluence of the three rivers.

After decades and millions of dollars invested in dikes and levees to prevent flooding events, the city is finally ready to stop fighting and start embracing its rivers, Mayor Tom Henry said in his opening remarks Thursday evening.

“Now we’re at a point where we can embrace our rivers and make them an asset in our community, a point of destination,” he said.

David Rubin, principal of David Rubin Land Collective, said the firm is about halfway through the master planning phase. In his presentation, he shared the public feedback gathered at the previous public input meeting Jan. 10.

Based on their participation in exercises designed to collect public input, residents identified the city’s strengths (parks, trails, food, culture and diversity) and weaknesses (safety, public access and lack of diversity).

Public input collected also pointed to residents’ wants and needs, including a downtown grocery store. According to Rubin, a majority of respondents said that they leave downtown to shop.

“The economic reality suggests that a 20,000-30,000-square-foot grocery and pharmacy should be downtown because it can be supported by your wishes and wants,” he said.

Public feedback also suggested a demand for more downtown restaurants, housing and office space for smaller tenants.

Rubin said the next step in the planning process is creating a schematic design for the second phase of riverfront development. Construction could start as early as this fall.

The goal of the next phases of riverfront development is to clear the way for private development around the riverfront, he said. The key will be enhancing and connecting key areas around the rivers like the Historic Wells Street Corridor, the water filtration plant, the Broadway Corridor and the Arts Campus on East Main Street.

“We want communities to be connected with each other. We want development opportunities that foster that engagement and that connectivity,” he said.

After the presentation, attendees were invited to share their ideas and feedback on what approach they would like to see the city take for the next phases of riverfront development.

Local resident Robert Chalfant shared his idea for a riverfront sky tram that would transport passengers from place to place along the riverfront.

“I wanted to come up with something fun and exciting for the whole family for the riverfront instead of just stores. I wanted some sort of amusement that would attract people,” he said.

Rubin also invited residents to share their ideas on social media by identifying Fort Wayne’s “Diamonds in the Rough” – places that have unmet potential. Residents can post their pictures on social media with the hashtag #DiamondsFW.

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