With a great deal of pride

New Haven takes its seat at the table

City of New Haven offices
Downtown New Haven

As it celebrates its 150th birthday this year, the City of New Haven is, you could say, feeling its oats like a youngster.

A lot of planning and hard work, including substantial public investment in infrastructure that equips the city to welcome additional residents and housing and more commercial and industrial development, is moving to the completed projects list. Many of these achievements can’t be seen as you move around town, but they’re exciting and important because they make a big difference in how well the city can function.

And it’s more fun to live in and visit New Haven than it’s been in years, thanks to an impressive calendar of community events and a downtown renaissance Mayor Terry McDonald says he has not seen since he moved to town in 1979. This month’s Canal Days festival is the town’s unofficial homecoming, and it kicks off a series of fun events.

The shopping and dining are good every day on Broadway and elsewhere in town. Ask the mayor, who has recommendations for every occasion and need, from dinner and drinks to ice cream, from bicycles to art and gifts, from clothing to furniture.

Top that off with the new, bigger, better Community Center set to open at what was once the Highway 30 drive-in (significantly remodeled, of course) this fall, and it’s obvious how much the city has to celebrate during its sesquicentennial year. New Haven was incorporated as a town after a vote approving the idea on June 7, 1866.

The town has deep and rich Wabash-Erie Canal and railroad history, but as it turns 150 years old, its future has a decidedly 21st-century feel.

Sidewalks and bike trails are an important part of the infrastructure the city has been investing in, for example.

“With the change in lifestyles, we are seeing an increased use of pedestrian sidewalks and more people bicycling,” said Brian Yoh, city planning and economic development director. “We are looking at making this community as walkable as possible.”

Today, 75 percent of New Haven’s residents can walk or bicycle down a sidewalk to the Rivergreenway trails network, and the city is working on that final 25 percent, he said. Yoh sees connectivity as an important aspect of marketing New Haven as a desirable residential community today and in the future, and he knows that without 21st-century kinds of residents, New Haven won’t be as successful attracting new business and industry in the 21st century.

“It’s the No. 1 question,” he said. Businesses considering a new location want to know if they will find enough of the right kind of employees there.

Its parks are another important part of New Haven’s 21st-century quality of life portfolio. With 17 park properties covering 350 acres, the New Haven-Adams Township Parks & Recreation Department is celebrating its 60th birthday this year. Superintendent Mike Clendenen did a little research.

“Our first budget was a thousand dollars,” he said. “It’s over a million today.

“That being said, we’ve got challenges.”

One of them is keeping up with maintenance for popular park features like the Rivergreenway trails, many of which are boardwalks that suffer flooding most years, and all the ball diamonds, which the department is planning to consolidate into a single park. In 2015, the parks offered 250 programs that attracted more than 3,000 participants. The Jury Park pool set a new record for attendance last year, even though the summer weather was not good.

The new Community Center, with four times the space of the current center, will likely push those numbers upwards. It will make it possible to offer more programming for seniors and for children and possibly even fitness classes, Clendenen said. And there’s the new band shell that is going up in Schnelker Park this month.

“Parks are an integral part of the team,” Yoh said.

Yoh traces his understanding of the importance of taking care of everything from the infrastructure under and on the ground to the programs in the parks to a difficult conversation he had one day as a young planner and economic developer.

After he had made his rosiest pitch, well aware of the realities of New Haven’s situation (he admits Broadway and the approach to downtown was ugly at the time), the business representative looked him in the eye and challenged everything he’d just said.

“‘You’re talking great things, but we don’t believe you,’ is what he said. ‘If you can’t take care of your mother, how do I expect you to take care of me?’

“That hit me like a lead balloon,” Yoh said. “When this guy (Mayor McDonald) took office, I told him that story, and he went to work. New Haven is finding its own now. That is the heart of this community.”

McDonald, Yoh and Clendenen speak as one when asked to name the biggest challenge facing New Haven’s city government. It’s money.

“There never seems to be enough of it,” McDonald said. “We’ve had our challenges from the Statehouse with all kinds of budget cuts, and the property tax cap was the largest over my 17 years in office.

“To me, it’s a quick road to a dead end.”

Yoh is concerned because he sees the budget cuts and property tax cap as “marginalizing the individual community’s ability to grow and to offer the necessary services” that are critical to his ability to succeed as an economic developer for New Haven.

The three officials realize people could probably live without municipal services like leaf pickup and even parks programs, “but it begins to lessen the quality of life, and younger people are going to places like Denver for quality of life, quality of place reasons,” McDonald said.

With New Haven, and the entire Midwest, lacking mountains or beaches offered elsewhere, McDonald, Yoh and Clendenen have searched for the quality of life and place that makes their city desirable. They believe they’ve found it.

It’s easy access to services, activities and events in a place that’s obviously well cared for.

“My dream is that we do some major additions to Jury Pool,” McDonald said. “That’s my dream for Regional Cities money to make that a regional draw.

“What will draw young people to want to live in New Haven? In my opinion, it will be quiet, safe streets that are clean in neighborhoods where they feel comfortable to walk down the sidewalks. When you travel, you notice those neighborhoods in those communities where you say ‘Those are nice. I wish we had those.'”

New Haven has invested in the infrastructure necessities and its parks and worked consistently at economic development. McDonald and Yoh are actively involved in regional economic development work and the High Performance Government Network initiatives. The reward has been new residential, commercial and industrial growth and the civic energy that powers the many events and all the people on the trails.

“There’s a renaissance going on in New Haven,” McDonald said.

 

2016 don’t-miss events:

Canal Days
June 7-11: Downtown along Broadway and into Schnelker Park. The community’s premier homecoming event includes a carnival, great food, fun vendor booths, entertainment and a chance to see everyone you know and meet a lot more folks. Proceeds benefit community causes. More information at
www.newhavencanaldays.wordpress.com.

Brew Haven
Aug. 6: 2-6 p.m., Main Street, downtown. Northeast Indiana’s premiere craft beer festival organized by Trion Tavern will feature more than 300 craft beers from more than 55 breweries, including 50-plus home-brews from MASH, the Fort Wayne Homebrew Club. Tickets go on sale May 27 at the Trion or online at Brown Paper Tickets.

Sample New Haven
Oct. 1: Taste the best from the city’s restaurants. Watch the New Haven Chamber of Commerce website for details. www.newhavenindiana.org.

Downtown Halloween
Oct. 31: Downtown New Haven is the place everyone goes to trick or treat. See it to believe it, and have lots of fun, too. Details at the New Haven Chamber of Commerce website. www.newhavenindiana.org.

Downtown Christmas
Dec. 9: Santa, shopping, mulled cider and carriage rides. Watch the New Haven Chamber of Commerce website for details. www.newhavenindiana.org.

 

New Haven population growth:
1870: 912
1900: 950
1950: 2,336
2000: 12,406
2010: 14,794
2014, est.: 15,608
Source: U.S. Census Bureau

First appeared in the June 2016 issue of Fort Wayne Magazine.

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