As construction of the first phase of Fort Wayne's downtown riverfront project begins, officials hope the end result will spur further tourism and commerce.
Heading up efforts is Megan Butler, program and events manager for Riverfront Fort Wayne. Her experience at Visit Fort Wayne, Butler said, has helped her understand tourism, specifically the nuances surrounding tourism in Fort Wayne. To promote Fort Wayne's riverfront, Butler said Riverfront Fort Wayne is reaching out to travel writers.
“We're doing outreach to those writers so they can start spreading our messages to their audiences around the country,” Butler said.
Riverfront Fort Wayne is also working with Visit Fort Wayne to increase the riverfront's prominence in the published visitors guide, Butler said. The organization is working with local marketing firm One Lucky Guitar to design a brochure featuring information about how residents and visitors can interact with Fort Wayne's rivers.
But promoting Fort Wayne's rivers as a place to visit extends beyond marketing. Coming up with attractive activities is key, Butler said. To raise awareness of the city's history with its rivers, Butler said Riverfront Fort Wayne will give 57 historic boat tours throughout the summer. Each will have a different theme focusing on various aspects of river history, Butler said.
There are also Dragon Boat Races scheduled for June 24 at Headwaters Park, Butler said. The Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation Department recently bought its own dragon boat, which will be available to teams for practice and for those who want to learn more about dragon boat racing.
Butler says that riverfront programming will be fairly sparse for the next year-and-a-half compared with what is planned after the park is complete.
“Once we have a park, it's going to be gangbusters,” Butler said. “There's going to be stuff happening there all year-round.”
There are a few large-scale events in the works, Butler said, including “one really big kickoff event that will hopefully blow your socks off.” But those are in the early planning stages.
Planning riverfront events without the infrastructure of a park is a challenge, Butler said. However, she added that she's used to doing large blowout events, so she welcomes the challenge.
“It's going to be great, because that park is going to connect so cleanly to Headwaters Park and The Landing,” Butler said. “In terms of physical space, there are enormous possibilities for what we're going to be able to do in the next couple of years.”
The goal, Butler added, is to plan events and programs that have never been done and change the perception residents and visitors have of Fort Wayne.
“I want people to think of themselves as Fort Wayne citizens and of Fort Wayne as a community that is always moving,” Butler said.
As the project's second and third phases, Butler said she'll look for ways to make the riverfront appealing for diverse audiences, including potential private developers.
“To me, diversity is not just something you say, but something you do,” Butler said. “I want to have the riverfront be the playground for all of Fort Wayne, so when developers look at the riverfront, they say, 'That's where I want to be. I want to be in the middle of the action, because that's where not only the people are, but where the energy is.' ”