Saturday, December 20, 2014


WHERE ARE ALL THE JOBS?  off with their heads..


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Last updated: Tue. Dec. 16, 2014 - 08:19 am EDT


City funding threat shouldn't decide 'marriage' of groups shaping downtown's future

Deal should hinge on what's best for Greater Fort Wayne, Downtown Improvement District

"Zombies" shuffle down The Landing during this year's "Fright Night" -- one of several events sponsored and promoted by the Downtown Improvement District. (News-Sentinel file photo by Ellie Bogue)
Tom Smith
Karl Bandemer
Therese Brown
John Urbahns
Kevin Leininger
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Happy, long-lasting marriages depend upon mutual benefit and satisfaction – not coercion.
But city officials are telling a 19-year-old downtown advocacy group that, unless it gets in bed with a two-year-old economic development agency, it could lose $150,000 annually -- more than a quarter of its budget.
Greater Fort Wayne Inc. has been courting the Downtown Improvement District since it was created through the consolidation of the Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Alliance in 2013, and the two agreed late that year to cooperate while exploring a more formal arrangement. But the pursuit has heated up in recent weeks, with GFW officials scheduled to lay out a proposal for a formal partnership at today's meeting of the DID board. But at this point it would be a shotgun wedding, with Deputy Mayor Karl Bandemer making it clear that the DID "should not anticipate city funding at the past level or any funding at all" if it refuses to say "I do."
"The city supports the work of the DID, but feels that it would be far more effective in an aligned relationship with GFW," Bandemer wrote in an email last month to DID Chairman Dave Arnold. "With all of (the) facets that downtown development includes, and now along with the additional focus on the river and the soon-to-be-released riverfront development plan, both will require even more focused attention . . . some may even argue that we should not distinguish between the two, but rather treat them as one."
Bandemer added that the DID could expect continued city funding if it agreed to the alignment with GFW, but noted state-imposed property tax caps could limit its allocation of economic development income taxes in the future.
City Council and DID board member Tom Smith, however, made it clear he has not been sufficiently wooed – and won't swoon under pressure.
"(The DID) was cautious a year ago (about aligning with GFW) and we're still cautious. And it's baffling to some degree. Why now? GFW is brand-new, and doesn't have its 'sea legs' yet," said Smith, R-1st. "We're the agency that specializes in downtown. They don't. (Losing city money) is a risk we have to take. We won't be forced."
This is not the turf war it may seem, since the two agencies have different functions. Even though GFW hired a downtown business development director earlier this year, its focus is on economic development communitywide. The DID coordinates and promotes downtown events and beautification. Smith suspects the effort is driven at least in part by money – and not just the city's. The largest portion of the DID's $587,000 budget – more than $307,000 – comes from an assessment paid by downtown property owners. They and City Council must reauthorize the DID next year or it will cease to exist.
"The timing is terrible," Smith said. "This will confuse people and put us at risk."
Allen County gives the DID $50,000 per year. Commissioner Therese Brown, who is also a DID board member, said the county's decision on future funding will not be affected by anything the city does. But Brown said she hopes the organization retains a degree of autonomy, a "street presence" and will not have its achievements and potential "overshadowed by shortsightedness."
But GFW Executive Vice President of Economic Development John Urbahns, former director of community development or the city, said the proposal he will outline today is simply intended to build upon the loose memorandum signed by the two organizations last year.
"This isn't about pressure. It's about doing what's right. It would give us a unified front on economic development," Urbahns said, noting GFW also works with the Airport Authority and other organizations. As a state-authorized agency, he said, the DID would maintain its own board and its employees could mesh with GFW staff.
In exchange for the deal, GFW has offered the DID two seats on its 60-member board of directors. Smith said any deal should grant the DID representation on the smaller GWF Executive Committee, but he doesn't want a deal -- at least not yet.
"They want to co-opt us when we're at the top of our game. The southeast side needs economic development. Let GFW do their job, and let us do our job," he said.
I'm not arguing that a DID-GFW deal would be a bad idea. It might even be a good idea. But Smith is right: Downtown Fort Wayne has momentum, and the DID can take some of the credit for that. Before an agreement is reached, the motives and benefits to both agencies and the city at large should be clearly spelled out, understood and embraced -- a romance that not even $150,000 can buy.

Posted on Wed. Dec. 17, 2014 - 12:01 am EDT

Downtown Improvement District board divided over deal with Greater Fort Wayne

Some say it's unnecessary; others say it would boost effectiveness

No vote was taken, but Tuesday's meeting of the Downtown Improvement District made it clear board members remain divided over a proposed alignment with Greater Fort Wayne Inc.
"What's wrong with diversity? We have different missions. If it's not broke, don't fix it," Eric Fisher asked after GFW Executive Vice President of Economic Development John Urbahns outlined the fee-for-service agreement under which the DID would operate under GFW's umbrella while retaining its identity and board of directors. Urbahns suggested the arrangement would improve cooperation and create a unified economic development focus, but Fisher and other DID directors suggested there is no overlap because the two agencies have different missions, with the DID focusing on events and beautification and GFW on job creation and development.
"If there's not duplication, we're not going to solve that issue," Ronda Hanning said. "Maybe we should stay focused on what we do and let GFW do the others. I like the idea of sticking to the tasks we do very well without adding another layer."
But Board President Dave Arnold and others supported the proposal, saying it would prevent duplication in the future, allowing the DID to conserve resources while focusing on its core mission.
A recent survey of downtown property owners, for example, found that 54 percent were willing to pay higher assessments to the DID in exchange for increased service. But one of those desired services was an increased emphasis on development.
"As a board, the results (of an affiliation) would be our responsibility. I am more comfortable that it would provide opportunities we wouldn't have on our own," said Mark Luttik.
Urbahns was uncertain whether the agreement would cut costs for either organization, but said "This isn't about money. It's about positioning ourselves well (as a community). We all care about downtown."
City officials have suggested they might eliminate their $150,000 annual support for the DID if it does not agree to the proposal. Arnold, however, said "We won't make the decsion based on city money. This is not an issue to be intimidated, not that that was their intent."
But DID board member Tom Smith, also a City Councilman, was more blunt: "Pay to play is unacceptable, and it would be unwise (for the city) to eliminate support."
A vote could come as soon as next month.

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Last updated: Wed. Dec. 17, 2014 - 09:20 am EDT

Online survey seeks ideas for south side shops, restaurants

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    Is there a shop or restaurant you would like to see in southern Fort Wayne? Now you can make your wishes known through an online survey. Anyone who shops, dines or lives in urban south Fort Wayne (roughly south of Jefferson Boulevard), is encouraged to complete the survey, which is being conducted in conjunction with an analysis of current and projected commercial market conditions in south Fort Wayne by Gibbs Planning Group of Birmingham, MI.
    Gibbs will then provide an analysis of current market conditions and identify potential for retail, dining, entertainment, personal and professional services, grocery or specialty food shops, lodging and office uses. The report will also make recommendations for enhancing the business climate in south Fort Wayne.
    The survey can be found at Hard copies are available at the City's Community Development Offices, suite 320, Citizens Square, 200 E. Berry St. or by calling 311. The deadline for submitting a response is Jan. 9, The study is expected to be complete this spring.

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