Fort Wayne’s downtown has not only bounced back, it’s thriving. It has grown into an exciting destination for residents and visitors, proving hard times can make a community stronger.
“No matter where you’re from, downtown is everybody’s neighborhood to have fun, shop, dine, and work in,” says Crissy Moloney, stakeholder services manager at the Fort Wayne Downtown Improvement District (DID).
Downtown is the vibrant hub of Fort Wayne and, as with spokes of a wheel, energy radiates into areas surrounding it, she says.
“We’ve seen great things happening here, in an area no one wanted to visit 10 to 15 years ago. We are definitely making strides in the right direction.”
DID works with the city, county, organizations and residents to plan and manage improvements; design, landscape and maintain public areas; promote and recruit businesses; and produce events. It manages a summer lunchtime series called Lunch on the Square, a series of street concerts and seasonal events, and is one of the largest economic improvement districts operating in Indiana.
The latest project is helping downtown restaurants to add or expand outdoor dining spaces. So far, that effort has included additional dining at two parklets, two public spaces and 13 restaurants.
During the pandemic, when people’s only option was to eat outdoors, many of them learned how much they enjoy al fresco dining.
“We are so fortunate,” says Moloney. “When so many other downtowns were seeing closures, our community rallied behind local businesses and we saw fewer closures than many cities. Fort Wayne, lovingly referred to often as ‘the city that saved itself,’ once again stepped up during the protests of last year. More than 200 community members showed up to clean broken glass, replant potted flowers and even to create inspirational murals on the plywood that covered broken windows throughout downtown, showing the community spirit the city is known for.”
Also new this year is Downtown Live, a series of free live performances by local musicians every Friday on The Landing and in a variety of downtown locations on Saturday through August.
The Downtown Fort Wayne Sidewalk Sale has returned for its second annual event Friday and Saturday Aug. 13-14. Participating retail shops and restaurants will offer discounted specials and expand their stores to the sidewalks. Local street musicians will perform.
The sidewalk sale was introduced last year to help people enjoy shopping safely. Scan the QR code at certain locations to enter a drawing and have a chance to win a downtown overnight package valued at $500. For a list of participating businesses, go to the sidewalk sale information on downtownfortwayne.com or follow social media.
In an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19 and have a healthier community, the Clean & Green Program was expanded last spring to add periodic sanitizing of high-touch outdoor surfaces in addition to their routine cleaning and maintenance.
Established years ago, Clean & Green monitors the downtown area to keep sidewalks and other areas clean and free of litter, weeds and graffiti. Working closely with the city, county, environmental organizations, businesses and property owners, Clean & Green works to enhance storefronts and public spaces, to address lighting and blight issues, and to beautify downtown with flowers and planters and maintain public space infrastructure, benches, trash and recycling containers, and more. They also work with city police to connect businesses to officers.
“One of the things we hear the most is how clean our downtown is,” says Moloney. “If an area is beautified, the perception of safety increases. When people feel safe, they come out to enjoy all of our local businesses and our murals. It’s people who bring our downtown to life.”
The DID was established in October 1995 by the Fort Wayne City Council under Indiana state statute and is governed by a board of directors. By the end of 2015, having successfully obtained the necessary support from commercial property owners, the district was expanded to include a total of 99 blocks and 445 acres. This area has 60 restaurants, 33 retailers and boutiques, four hotels and 13 residential businesses.
For more information on upcoming events, go to downtownfortwayne.com and for an interactive public art and mural map, go to ArtThisWay.com. ❚