As the ballpark at Harrison Square has been debated and discussed, there was much talk of looking to other cities, such as Dayton and Louisville for inspiration, ideas and lessons learned. I had even heard – and often suggested – that the developers look to Toledo for the same reasons.
Having visited there in 2006 for the Triple-A All-Star Game, I saw a great facility that had little to surround it. While it was not as bad as Detroit, where you walk out of a beautiful stadium and suddenly feel like you’ve been dropped into a scene from The Road Warrior or Mad Max, Toledo bored me. There was absolutely nothing to do near the park. Yet, you could tell they were on the upswing (or so I thought).
At the time, it seemed to me that Toledo was several steps ahead of Fort Wayne. However, Toledo Blade Staff Writer Matthew Eisen (wonder if there’s any relation to former Daisies player, Tibby Eisen), posits that Toledo may look to Fort Wayne for inspiration.
In Fort Wayne, Ind. â€” a city with a metro population equal to Toledoâ€™s, just short of 600,000 â€” a comprehensive plan released in 2002 provided the blueprints for 76 downtown projects.
Sharon Feasel, a redevelopment specialist for Fort Wayne, said the city has completed nearly 50 percent of those objectives, including expansion of its convention center and smaller initiatives such as the landscaping of city center medians.
The second-largest city in Indiana is in the middle of building a new ballpark for its Class A minor league baseball team, the Fort Wayne Wizards, in the Harrison Square area downtown. The project includes a Marriott hotel and 60 new condominiums.
â€œWe set about the process of thinking about all of the complexities of downtown,â€ she said. â€œDowntown, everyone has to do everything together, and you have to mix all uses, all races, all incomes, mix all everything.
â€œWe just literally set about trying to promise that this wasnâ€™t going to be a plan that sat on the shelf.â€
Ms. Feasel said the plan has experienced so much success that Fort Wayne produced an update â€” Blueprint Plus â€” zeroing in on more specific parts of downtown, including the waterfront along the cityâ€™s own stretch of the Maumee River.
Eisen’s article bases a lot of Toledo’s current momentum on the tenets of an architectural movement that is collectively known as New Urbanism; which is a concept that “endorses the creation of heterogeneous neighborhoods with a variety of shops, offices, and accessible green space while encouraging public transportation and walking.”
During the years of 1950 to 2007, urban populations grew from 110 million to 275 million. During the same time frame, rural populations grew from 62 million to 63 million. Projections suggest that urban populations will to continue to ascend â€” increasing to 401 million by 2050. At the same time, rural populations are expected to fall to 44 million.
New Urbanism definitely has its advantages. Higher density creates lower energy costs. Working near employment reduces commutes, and further saves energy. Additionally, there is always a social outlet for those seeking it.
Naturally, this is a type of living environment that caters to young professionals. I’ve observed this fact many times over. Those who are for the HS project, are typically 30 and under. Those who are against it, are typically . . . well, older than that. (While I like comments, let me preempt potential backlash by observing that I did NOT say every 30 year-old loves the Harrison Square idea and everyone over 30 hates it). Chew on this for a minute:
The millennial generation â€” 78 million born from 1977 to 1996 â€” has started becoming a major part of the work force as baby boomers â€” 82 million born from 1946 to 1964 â€” begin to take a bow and pack up their desks. The group of fresh workers might be more apt to look for residences downtown if their jobs are already there . . .
With jobs generating activity during the day, and residents filling the void in the evenings, downtowns suddenly become more attractive to other businesses, much as they were 50 years ago when they served as the hub of industry.
Most urban planners agree revitalization then typically goes to entertainment â€” restaurants, nightclubs, theaters, sports venues â€” followed by retail, a far more fickle downtown staple, all on the heels of other developments to complete the city center package.
Eisen concludes his piece by stating that “[v]ery few cities in the country the size of Toledo have a ballpark, a convention center, a world-class art museum, a picturesque waterfront, and a budding arena to attract visitors and residents to the city.”
While he is correct, I look to Fort Wayne. Fort Wayne has all that, plus a phenomenal public library, the Embassy Theatre, the Botanical Conservatory, additional museums and plenty of dining options. Honestly, this is an opportunity that others have worked very hard to achieve, and one that can’t be passed up.
I guess Fort Wayne isn’t that far behind after all.