Archive | Fort Wayne

Three ways the Ash Brokerage HQ connects downtown Fort Wayne

Renderings-1-withlogos

My family can tell you I was as excited as a schoolgirl at Build-a-Bear when I saw the drawings for the planned Ash Brokerage headquarters in downtown Fort Wayne. This. Is. TREMENDOUS. What a fantastic looking building for our city.

But as I studied the building yesterday, I came across some disgruntled comments about it, and they were more than just complaints about Cindy’s Diner. (Note: Cindy’s current location is not original, and all involved parties want to find it a new home.) Some people didn’t like the modern look; some didn’t like the sheer size of it.

Let me try to lay some fears to rest. There are three tangible ways this structure will help connect downtown.

It connects to the structures of downtown

I’ve heard commenters say that this doesn’t match the historic nature of downtown Fort Wayne. And it certainly doesn’t look like the Star Bank building or Lincoln Tower to the east, or the block of buildings across Wayne Street.

But downtown Fort Wayne is not in any way a uniformly historic-looking downtown. Right across Berry Street from the Ash HQ is the modern looking Metro building. One block away is the second-tallest building, PNC Bank, and not far is One Summit Square, both of which are strikingly modern. This new structure complements them handsomely.

Besides, good design isn’t always about matching. Often, it’s about mixing. Contrast is a great design tool, whether we’re talking about typefaces, colors, or buildings. Historic and contemporary can live very comfortably side by side as long as the next point is taken into account.

It connects to the sidewalks of downtown

I think a lot of people have been turned off by modern architecture because of some of our unfortunate “starchitects” who forgot about relating the building to the street and pedestrian. But that’s not the fault of a modern design.

David Sucher, author of “City Comforts,” identifies the Three Rules for Urban Design; that is, the elements that mark an urban design versus a suburban one. It’s all in the site plan:

  1. Build to the sidewalk (i.e., property line).
  2. Make the building front “permeable” (i.e., no blank walls).
  3. Prohibit parking lots in front of the building.

Look at the sketch of the building above. Just like a great urban building of the early 20th century, this early 21st century one is friendly to pedestrians. The retail filling most of the first floor softens what could have been a foreboding blank steel wall. We citizens of Fort Wayne will rarely get to see the building from the angle seen above, but most of us will walk by it. It’s much friendlier than a parking lot.

It connects to the space of downtown

Currently, the parts of downtown west of this spot — including the library, the Ferguson Building at Berry and Ewing, and the soon-to-be University of Saint Francis downtown campus — can feel a little isolated from the rest of downtown. That’s partly because of how large surface parking lots dampen pedestrian traffic.

Consider how successful Lunch on the Square at the corner of Calhoun and Wayne is, and then consider how far you have to walk to find surface parking from there. The parking garages lacking first-floor retail or office space aren’t helping, but there is no huge block-sized surface parking within a few blocks.

But this is one of the greatest gifts of this project: It fills a hole in our downtown. It connects the areas to its west and east, and to its north and south. Downtown will feel more “whole” and will feel even larger, in a wonderful way.

This is big news for downtown Fort Wayne, and not just for the developers. It’s big news for all of us who call this city home. A thriving downtown is the nucleus of a city, and this only strengthens our core. Great job, Ash Brokerage, for investing in downtown, and in all of us.

Image courtesy of the City of Fort Wayne

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The novelty of walking to school

Students walking to St. John's School in Marshfield, Wis. Courtesy USDOT

I walked to school every day of my life, from kindergarten through high school. It was only a quarter mile to my elementary school, and it was less than a mile to the high school. And every street had a sidewalk.

But that was 30 years ago. Now, such a simple part of life seems to be a thing of the past:

In 2009 only 13 percent of K-8th Grade students were reported as walking or biking to school. That’s a huge shift from 40 years earlier when that number was 48 percent. In 1969, 89 percent of kids who lived within a mile of school walked or rode their bikes; in 2009 that figure was down to 35 percent.

That’s from a story on the U.S. Department of Transportation blog, “Indiana Schools Take Strides Toward Safe Routes to School.” Although those statistics are bleak, the USDOT congratulated Indiana for doing a good job of meeting what the Federal Highway Administration calls the 5 E’s:

  1. Engineering – Creating roadway improvements near schools that reduce speeds and potential conflicts between motor vehicles and walking students and establishing safer crossings, walkways, and bikeways.
  2. Education – Teaching children important bicycling and walking safety skills and launching driver safety campaigns near schools.
  3. Enforcement – Partnering with local law enforcement to ensure traffic laws are obeyed in school zones and initiating community enforcement such as crossing guard programs.
  4. Encouragement – Using events and activities to promote walking and bicycling.
  5. Evaluation – Monitoring and documenting outcomes and trends to gauge success.

The first point, of course, mirrors the Complete Streets movement.

But despite the accolades, it’s doubtful an Indiana child walks or bikes to school, especially here in Fort Wayne, where the Walk Score is 39 out of a possible 100. A consistent policy of building simple physical features such as sidewalks and crossable streets would make getting around on foot a lot more feasible.

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Fort Wayne debates effect of Downtown Development Trust on private investment

A story in Sunday’s Journal Gazette about the non-profit Downtown Development Trust asks the right questions and encourages the correct debate on these kinds of efforts:

Several local leaders hope to re-create that venti-sized success through the Downtown Development Trust, a non-profit that allows them to sell properties at a discount to folks who promise to open businesses bound to draw crowds.

The trust is in final negotiations to sells its first purchase, the former Instant Copy building at 232 W. Wayne St. Officials expect to close the deal in May.

Supporters say the trust is an important vehicle for downtown renewal. But at least one city official worries that developers might rely on attractive deals available from the trust and pass up other downtown real estate ripe for reinvention.

Sounds like a non-profit, non-governmental trust could be a good idea, but Mitch Harper’s concerns are legitimate. What do you think?

— Photo by Cathie Rowand of The Journal Gazette

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Shoaff: When building roads, worry about the people who live there

Councilman John Shoaff identified what may be the central reason the city of Fort Wayne hits opposition when it proposes a street widening project.

Shoaff has been a strong opponent of the city’s plan to widen State Boulevard through the Brookview-Irvington Park neighborhood, from Clinton Street to Wells Street. And during Tuesday’s common council meeting, Shoaff related a conversation he had with a city landscape architect about the proposal to separate the railroad tracks from South Anthony Boulevard.

The current plans include what Shoaff called very wide lanes and sloping ground that takes up “an enormous amount of acreage.” The plans were made in a way that the viewer has no idea how the street relates to the rest of the neighborhood.

Shoaff asked why the plans took this form.

“We were trying to make it a nicer experience for the drivers,” the landscape architect said.

“The drivers are going to be through there in 60 seconds,” Shoaff responded. “The people you have to worry about are the people who live there.”

Exactly. As Shoaff said, traffic engineers are very competent in their line of work, but they are trained to work on behalf of the motorist, not on behalf of the neighborhood. Neighborhood concerns should be truly weighed when road work is planned in the city.

Shoaff’s discussion on this conversation begins at about the 46-minute mark of the video.

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Recommended reading on State Boulevard widening

I’m way late commenting on this story, since it ran in the April 1 Journal Gazette.

But “State of State Boulevard” by Stacey Stumpf is an excellent read on the city’s plan to widen and straighten State Boulevard west of Clinton Street.

It’s excellent because it clearly presents the city’s case for the construction and residents’ concerns over the destruction of a portion of the neighborhood.

But my sympathies are with Councilman John Shoaff, who has been very critical of the city’s plans. From the editorial:

“The major problem is the concept and the goal is wrong,” Shoaff said. “Coliseum Boulevard was created to be a major arterial. I-469 was created to be a major arterial, and that’s all good and appropriate. State Boulevard was not. All of this is just a very inappropriate intrusion into neighborhoods with an arterial expansion.”

My thoughts: Wouldn’t the widening of State Boulevard be less necessary if the city goes through with its plan of extending Spring Street past Wells Street to Clinton? More narrow streets is a much more friendly solution than a four- to five-lane highway through an existing neighborhood.

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Are chain stores bad for downtowns?

Subway in downtown Lewiston, MaineFrom The News-Sentinel:

BLOOMINGTON — A task force appointed by Bloomington’s mayor is going to consider steps other than his proposed ban on new chain stores and restaurants to protect the character of the city’s downtown. …

Mayor Mark Kruzan asked task force members in September to start considering chain store restrictions. He has said he wants to protect areas with distinctive business identities.

How can a ban on certain kinds of business ownership save a downtown? Even the most traditional downtowns of the 1950s had chain stores like G.C. Murphy’s and Walgreens.

The mayor should perhaps instead consider The Three Rules of Urban Design for his downtown:

  1. Build to the sidewalk (i.e., property line).
  2. Make the building front “permeable” (i.e., no blank walls).
  3. Prohibit parking lots in front of the building.

It doesn’t matter who owns the store. It matter where the store is located on the site plan. Because nowadays, big chains such as Subway and Starbucks can easily meet these urban standards. The problems arise when stores in an urban area ignore the simple steps above that would make any building a compliment.

Photo by NNECAPA from Flickr

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Results of downtown design survey

downtown_d75d7b7352_bHere is the press release sent out by the City of Fort Wayne this morning:

DOWNTOWN SURVEY RESULTS SHOW PUBLIC PREFERENCE FOR DURABLE DESIGN

Input from nearly 700 people to help create Downtown Design Manual

Fort Wayne, Ind. – Fort Wayne residents have once again expressed support for thoughtful design in downtown Fort Wayne through the downtown design survey earlier this fall. An internal team and an advisory group will use the survey’s information as they create a Downtown Design Manual by early next year.

“Engaging the public in the revision process is a critical element to ensure that we are planning with people, not for them,” Mayor Tom Henry said. “We received an outstanding response from the public and will use this information as we shape policy that will leave a lasting legacy for our downtown and entire community.”

Respondents expressed a decided preference for an appealing pedestrian experience in downtown, particularly for anything that includes landscaping, planters and greenery. Other preferences included the use of durable materials such as brick and stone, street-level windows, lower ground-mounted signage and wide, unobstructed sidewalks.

“Fort Wayne residents consistently tell us they care about how their city looks,” said Community Development Director John Urbahns. “Information from this survey as well as the input from the comprehensive plan process and the Downtown Blueprint points to how people value and appreciate the aesthetic experience of public spaces.”

The City will use the survey and information from the internal team and advisory group to create a Downtown Design Manual. The existing Downtown Design Guidelines is an advisory document that provides general recommendations. The new manual will continue to have recommendations but may include required elements that would be incorporated into a zoning ordinance amendment, which would need City Council approval. Required elements would need to be quantifiable and not based on a specific taste or style. Once complete, the draft design manual will be made available for public review and comment.

“One of the things that makes downtown Fort Wayne an interesting place is the variety of styles: the Allen County Courthouse, One Summit Square, the Lincoln Tower and the Grand Wayne Center for example. We want our design manual to maintain architectural diversity while encouraging features we know Fort Wayne residents appreciate and want to see more of,” Mayor Henry said.

The survey, taken by 693 people, had respondents evaluate building materials, signage, sidewalks, windows and other design elements of buildings and public spaces. Respondents could also indicate if the feature should be encouraged or required. A full summary of the responses is available at www.cityoffortwayne.org/designsurvey.

Photo from Flickr by Northeast Indiana

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What’s your verdict on Calhoun Street?

Calhoun Street demolitionCalhoun Street in downtown Fort Wayne from Washington Boulevard to Berry Street was demolished, and rebuilt, and is now a two-way street. What do you think?

Please leave specific comments, either criticisms or commendations, in the box below. If you’re a first-time commenter, your comment won’t appear until it’s approved.

Oh, and if you post a photo of the new Calhoun Street online, please post a link to that, too.

Photo © Scott Spaulding

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