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Last updated: Thu. Feb. 20, 2014 - 09:19 am EDT

Keeping Gen. Wayne where he is turned 'defeat' into victory

Improvements near statue will spur renovation of entire Freimann Square

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When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

Sometimes that's just a feel-good platitude. When it comes to Mayor Tom Henry's late-2012 proposal to move the state of Gen. “Mad” Anthony Wayne to the Allen County Courthouse, however, the apparent defeat has turned into a victory for the dated downtown park that has been Wayne's home since the early 1970s.

When the Courthouse Preservation Trust changed Henry's mind last August by pledging to spruce up the statue's surroundings in Freimann Square, it was a mixed blessing for Parks Director Al Moll. The new lighting and landscaping would dramatically improve the look of the park's southwestern corner, but would leave the rest looking like it was stuck in a 1970s time warp.

So, thanks to the decision to keep Wayne and his horse where they are, the rest of Freimann Square will be getting what may turn out to be the biggest cosmetic makeover in its 41-year history.

“We thought, 'the area around the statue is going to look so good, we'd better do the rest,” said Moll, whose department will spend the next three to five years modernizing and beautifying the portion not included in the Wayne project.

Exchanging the original benches for a more contemporary and durable model will come first – a deceptively challenging mission, since each of the 80 or so benches will cost about $1,800 to replace. But, depending on available funding, the project could be far more extensive.

“We're going to look at the design of the whole park,” Moll said, noting that landscaping could be changed and the restrooms upgraded or replaced.

And the good news is that, like the statue's surroundings, the improvements will be funded with mostly private dollars. Although the Downtown

Improvement District is partially government-supported and will pay for four benches this year and possibly more later on, Moll said most of the work will be paid for by the Freimann Charitable Trust, which endows the park named for the former Magnavox Co. president. The endowment provides about $60,000 per year.

This is not the first time Freimann Square has received major improvements, but the planned modernization may make it the most noticeable – something Moll helps will make the park more appealing to would-be users.

Freimann Square would have been upgraded eventually, with or without state statue controversy. But even though I initially supported the move, a small and controversial project that would have cost $100,000 in tax dollars will be replaced with what should be a universally popular beautification of an entire park that will cost taxpayers next to nothing – all because the first idea wasn't the last word.

Life can't always be like that, of course. Sometimes there's no silver lining in defeat. But it's worth remembering that sometimes the opposite is equally true if you're willing to look -- and work -- for it.

For the 'common' good?

According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, President Obama's proposal to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would pull millions out of poverty but also cost 500,000 jobs in 2016. And that, really, is a pretty good assessment of Indiana's “common wage” law, which was on display again last week when a Fort Wayne Community Schools committee voted to pay

union-level wages on three building-upgrade projects worth a total of about $1.6 million.

The law requires the establishment of a minimum construction wage on most government projects costing more than $350,000. The five-member committees normally choose between wages proposed by the AFL-CIO and the Associated Builders and Contractors, which claims its non-union scale can reduce costs by up to 30 percent.

The FWCS committee has at times chosen both. But having just two years ago persuaded voters to approve $119 million in improvements by promising to be good stewards of the money, board members should at least be willing to stand behind their decision to spend more than necessary.

That didn't happen in this case, according to the FWCS Board's two most conservative members, Glenna Jehl and Lisa Olinger. When the board appointed pro-union members to the wage committee last November, they believed it would be for the usual three-month period. Instead, the appointees were allowed to continue into the current three-month project cycle without a separate board vote.

Jehl and Olinger don't claim the extension was illegal. “But it was never made known to us. If it had been, I would have protested more,” Jehl said.

And for good reason. Because of the vote, some workers will earn more. But taxpayers will get less for their money – and, just maybe, there will be fewer jobs created as a result.

kleininger@news-sentinel.com


This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at kleininger@news-sentinel.com or call him at 461-8355.


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