Mayor trumpets ‘transformation’
Fort Wayne is experiencing an unprecedented period of growth, Mayor Tom Henry said Friday.
Henry, who is gearing up for a re-election campaign next year, sat down with The Journal Gazette on Friday to reflect upon 2018 and look ahead to 2019 and beyond.
“I think our city has been going through a period of tremendous transformation over the past decade. I’ve been in Fort Wayne just about all my life, my family has been here for over 100 years. I have not seen the kind of activity that we’re experiencing now, ever,” Henry said.
Henry added that the amount of work going into downtown and the surrounding neighborhoods, as well as the involvement of residents and increase in philanthropic activity has been buoying.
“When young people are now referring to Fort Wayne as Fort Fun, that’s neat,” Henry said.
What went well
Two things that Henry said stand out to him as successes of 2018 were Electric Works and riverfront development.
“We were finally able to put together a public package that we could send forward to the (Electric Works) developers that we think was appropriate enough to protect taxpayers and at the same time share the vision of the developers,” Henry said. “That due diligence took us awhile through 2018, but we were able to do that.”
The ribbon will be cut on the first phase of the downtown riverfront in June, Henry said. It was something that took a lot of planning and forethought throughout the year.
Other notable accomplishments, Henry said, include additional development downtown, including Skyline Tower, the new Hampton Inn hotel and approval of a new boutique hotel on Main Street.
“There were a lot of additional offerings downtown, housing-wise and hospitality-wise that helped continue that momentum,” Henry said. “But also we were able to invest another $30 million in neighborhoods.”
That trend has been ongoing for several years, Henry said.
“It’s been a tremendous privilege to be in a position to have access to the capital necessary to do that, because we’ve asked our neighbors, our citizens to wait forever for some of these projects to be done,” Henry said.
Didn’t go well
“Probably the biggest challenge has been the increase in our opioid crisis and the spinoff problems that we’ve had as a result,” Henry said. “The crisis itself we’re trying to get our head around and deal with from a law enforcement and educational perspective, as well as additional treatment options.”
The drug environment has been difficult to deal with, Henry said, but the city and county are actively working to fix the problem. City and county officials have put together task forces to address the issue and come up with solutions, Henry added.
“We’re going to be doing some things in 2019 in the area of education and seminars and pleas to our state and federal government for additional money for treatment,” Henry said. “We’re trying to address it as actively as we can, but that’s been a real tough one.”
It’s also been increasingly difficult to secure federal funding for city projects, Henry said.
“We have been able to get some money, but the competition is so tough because cities are struggling for revenue streams and access to capital,” Henry said. “We have been very fortunate. Our City Council has stepped up and helped us out on several occasions with wheel taxes and additional income tax and the like.”
Henry also credited the city’s financial division for prioritizing and investing well. That means Fort Wayne is in better shape than many Indiana cities, Henry said.
“They’re pushing hard for federal and state money,” Henry said. We certainly asked for our fair share, but I don’t think we’ve received it. Some of the projects, initiatives that I would like to move forward that require their contribution, they’re kind of putting us on the back burner.”
One such project Henry noted involves a railroad crossing on South Anthony Boulevard near Wayne Trace.
“It’s a very active railway and Anthony is a very active corridor for the movement of commerce,” Henry said. “When those trains come in, sometimes they’re very, very long and they move very, very slow. Sometimes they stop.”
Accidents and close calls involving trains and vehicles are common there, Henry added.
To address that issue, Henry said his administration is trying to secure federal funds to either send the railroad over or under the road.
“Moving it is too difficult and it’s not an inexpensive venture, so I can understand some hesitancy. But, it’s not like we’re not going to put up any money, it’s a partnership,” Henry said. “Obviously we’re asking for the lion’s share to come from the federal government because you’re dealing with the railroad.
“We have been unable so far to secure the funds necessary.”