Monday, August 01, 2005

Downtown: One Day You'll Want to Come

As I mentioned in last week's podcast, I'll be devoting an upcoming episode to discussing downtown redevelopment.

And speaking of downtown, on Sunday, JG editorial writer Stacey Stumpf (who formerly served as Mayor Graham Richard's director of public information) wrote an editorial on Fort Wayne's proclivity to spend money conducting studies.
The city’s bills for consultants are starting to add up. Close to $400,000 has been spent since 2002 alone.

And while solid planning is essential, too much planning and research can lead to analysis paralysis. Instead of commissioning another study and consulting another consultant, should the city focus on finishing projects?

Some people say it’s time to stop planning and start doing. And much of the doing needs to come from private development. Government has done its share – it has created a grander convention center and a bigger library.

“We don’t have a shortage of plans. There is a shortage of accomplishments,” Helmke said[...]

“All of us are impatient for progress,” Mayor Richard said. “But I’m optimistic with the commitment we have for the bond issue for $10 million and the consensus we have built. Certainly, we would like to see things move quickly, but I feel good about the progress.”

The city also has completed nine studies.

“Those all may seem like small things, but they add up,” said Sharon Feasel, redevelopment specialist for the city. “Take the studies, those studies are valuable. The average citizen might not be thrilled because it starts to get into planner-speak. But to a developer … they want to know if they build it, people will come.” The city, she said, will be able to use the studies to attract developers to build a third downtown hotel, invest in urban housing, open a new restaurant and take a chance on a retail shopping enterprise.

Like most of us, I think that the time to "study" downtown is over. (In fact, I bet if you commissioned a new study to find out whether we need to continue conducting studies, the result would be: no.) Does that mean it's time to start getting serious about implementing the blueprint for downtown -- er, the revised blueprint for downtown?

Perhaps. But I think there are some issues -- and ideas -- that ought to be considered before we pour more tax dollars into a plan whose only guarantee is our fervent hope that it will yield results.

From what I've seen, we're awfully focused on what we can buildto attract people downtown...but what if there's a better way to do that than government-funded (or subsidized) construction? After all, if we can get them downtown for less money and with more certainty than the current plan, we wouldn't have to spend so much time and money on studies whose results we hope will convince developers and businesses to invest in downtown.

I've got some ideas, and I'll be discussing them in here on the blog in the next few days, as well as on the Downtown Revitalization Podcast. Don't be shy to add your two cents and comment on a post about downtown. Soon, it will be too late.




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