The recent opening of The Bradley boutique hotel in downtown Fort Wayne is one of numerous projects changing the skyline of Indiana’s second largest city. The city built itself on manufacturing, but a once robust economy began to decline in the 90s and 2000s. “Fort Wayne was a city that made things and for decades, we enjoyed that,” said Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry. “With the exodus of manufacturing jobs, we were hit very hard; we lost 20,000 jobs in one year.”
In an interview with Around INdiana Reporter Mary-Rachel Redman, Henry said the city has seen a transformation with more than $1 billion in public and private investment over the last decade.
“We felt that downtowns were the heart of any city, that if you made an attractive downtown that consisted of art offerings and the recreational opportunities and a significant amount of hospitality offerings that it could attract people not only to come downtown and play, but to also live and work, and we’ve seen significant increases in all three,” said Henry.
Henry says the number of people who live in downtown Fort Wayne has quadrupled, which has attracted the attention of an increasing number of developers. He adds tapping into a once unwanted natural resource has also been key to attracting investment.
“We have three rivers the converge in the middle of our city. Our rivers have been a challenge for a number of years – that flooded homes, that flooded businesses – and we fought that for decades and spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to push the rivers away. Well, that never really worked,” he said. “So finally, we decided to change that philosophy and attempted to embrace our rivers.”
That change in focus has paid off. The city opened the first phase of the Riverfront Fort Wayne effort, Promenade Park, opened in 2019. The second phase is currently in the works.
“We still have a ways to go. This is only phase one of three phases. This particular phase, we invested about $30 million. To the east is a new mixed-use development
Construction on the mixed-use development is expected to be complete in 2023.
Henry says he anticipates another $1 billion investment in downtown Fort Wayne over the next five years.