Under proposals by three special study groups, Mayor Tom Henry's spending plan for Fort Wayne's $75 million nest egg could include two $10 million funds for downtown and riverfront development, along with a wide range of smaller projects.
The study groups' recommendations include $10 million to set up a new river development agency, plus a $500,000 riverfront “master plan” study; a $10 million loan fund to attract businesses downtown; and more than $2 million to light up the Wells Street Bridge and improve downtown gateways.
Sources familiar with the process said Henry could announce the final recommendations as early as the end of July, although a city spokesman said this week the mayor was still reviewing preliminary drafts. Henry formed the groups in January to narrow down ideas on how to spend $75 million freed up by the city's recent settlement with Indiana Michigan Power.
“The Legacy Champion Teams are still wrapping up their work, and City staff members are still putting the recommendations together in final form,” city spokesman Frank Suarez said in an e-mail. “Given the scope of the work, the mayor is obviously taking some time to review and digest everything.”
Sources said the recommendations also would include a $4.5 million renovation of the old McMillen Ice Arena into an updated community center; a $5 million grant fund to help draw colleges downtown; $1 million in matching grants to help acquire downtown property for future development; and a $2 million grant toward new baseball fields for the ASH (Academy of Sports and Health) Centre.
In a 2010 settlement, I&M agreed to pay Fort Wayne about $39 million over 15 years for the remaining assets of the old City Light utility. The settlement also allowed the city to access a $36 million fund created over the years with lease payments by I&M.
Henry set up a special task force that spent a year gathering and reviewing hundreds of ideas from the public on how to spend or invest the money. The task force ultimately suggested that the money go toward three broad areas – downtown and riverfronts, economic development and youth sports.
Each of the three “Legacy Champion Teams” was instructed in January to study one of the areas more in-depth and report their final recommendations to Henry by late spring. Final authority to spend the money rests with the mayor and City Council.
In draft reports obtained by The News-Sentinel, the downtown study group urged city officials to create a new board, commission or nonprofit agency to supervise residential and commercial development along the rivers. Running that group likely would cost $10 million over five years, the reports said.
A $10 million downtown “opportunity fund” would provide equity to developers that want to build “transformative downtown projects,” according to the reports. City officials ought to set the fund up as a loan program to recapture investments, the reports said.
The ASH Centre project would feature a regulation-size baseball field that could be used by colleges such as the University of Saint Francis, along with three smaller youth fields, at the organization's 26-acre Freeman Street site, said City Councilman Tom Didier, who served on the youth sports study group.
Under the study group's recommendations, the city would put about $2 million toward the $6.2 million project under the condition that the ASH Centre raises the remaining funds, Didier said.
According to the study group reports, a lighting scheme for the old Wells Street Bridge would cost about $70,000, and the city could spend another $2 million to spruce up a dozen railroad underpasses and overpasses that serve as unsightly gateways to downtown.
The plan would include special paint, lighting and signage at over- and underpasses along streets such as Calhoun, Clinton, Ewing, Harrison and others.