In a December 27th editorial, the News-Sentinel asked the question “Why Downtown?” Let me rephrase that and ask, “Why not Downtown?”
The downtown is the heart of any city. It is the place where settlement first occurs and where the history of a city grows. In Fort Wayne, the West Central Neighborhood, with its magnificent homes, was one of the first historical districts recognized. The Landing downtown actually was a “landing” where commercial transportation and exchange of goods occurred thanks to the Wabash and Erie Canal and later the Nickel Plate Railroad. The old Fort stands downtown along with the historical museum and many fine examples of past architectural styles. These are only a few of the examples of the history of the downtown area; many, many more exist.
The downtown used to be a place where people shopped, transacted business, enjoyed a meal, and gathered to interact with each other. Most enclosed malls and some open-air malls are analogous to the good, old-fashioned downtown. They are set up to provide a complete shopping experience in a defined, established space similar to the purpose of a downtown.
For instance, Glenbrook Mall is enclosed and enables people to transact business, to interact with each other, to enjoy activities, and to relax over a meal after shopping. On the southwest side of Fort Wayne, we now have Jefferson Pointe. It is an open-air mall but resembles even more closely a “downtown” with its shops, activities, and restaurants in close proximity. Why is it people are all too willing to flock to the “suburban” malls, yet turn negative when attempts are made to restore that same form of experience and enterprise to our downtown?
Developers and citizens are all too eager to develop land and projects in “Pleasant Valley Sunday” suburbs and pull people away from the city. The “white flight” to the suburbs is a fact; all you have to do is look at the demographics of the NE, NW, and SW of Fort Wayne. They range from 96% to 98% white (the last figures I could find).
Why not focus some of that effort in the reverse and provide incentives to draw people back to restoring older homes and buildings in the core of the city? Part of that effort has to include supporting projects to revitalize downtown.
Fort Wayne Newspapers (the very source of the editorial from the News-Sentinel), for whatever reasons, decided to invest in downtown by building its expansion here rather than look for a location in one of the suburbs. I am sure part of it was economic, but ask yourself why they not only decided to remain in the core of the city but also made every effort to construct a building which will do justice to the historical aspects of the neighborhood in which you are located.
Finally, take time to visit the Hyde Brothers Bookstore on Wells and browse some of the old books that set out the history of Fort Wayne and Allen County. You may find yourself informed and fascinated by what we have right here in the heart of Fort Wayne.