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The Journal Gazette

  • Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette City and state dignitaries watch the demolition Thursday of the building at Lafayette Street and East Washington Boulevard, future site of the Fort Wayne Rescue Mission.

Friday, September 15, 2017 1:00 am

Building comes down for new Rescue Mission

To join 'Corridor of Caring'

ROSA SALTER RODRIGUEZ | The Journal Gazette

It started with a 100-foot-tall construction crane with a wrecking ball lumbering across a parking lot while belching blue smoke. It ended in a cloud of orange dust and the thud of a steel beam hitting the ground.

So went what Fort Wayne Rescue Mission officials called one more landmark on the timeline to a new $17.5 million facility to serve the needs of homeless men.

Dignitaries donned white hard hats and bright-green safety vests as they gathered to watch the start of the demolition of a former car dealership at the southeast corner of Lafayette Street and East Washington Boulevard.

The Rev. Donovan Coley, chief executive officer of the Rescue Mission, called the new building that will replace the long-vacant structure more than an expansion of the mission's current building at 301 W. Superior St.

He called the new facility part of a new way for the community to view the homeless – as people with potentially transformed lives that will take them back to employment, their families and the community. 

“This is not about a bigger barn,” he said. “It's about changing the way Fort Wayne thinks about the poor and the homeless.”

He said the building, not scheduled for completion until 2020, should be seen as part of a “Corridor of Caring” that includes St. Mary's Soup Kitchen, Matthew 25 Medical and Dental Clinic and a new addition, Oak Street Health Clinic at 436 E. Washington Blvd.

The new building will mean homeless men will not only be given a meal and a place to sleep but also will be connected to other social and medical services and job placement help from an expanded staff, Coley said. 

With the demolition, Coley said the mission is moving from the major donors' “silent” phase of fundraising to a public capital campaign that will start in July. Major donors so far have contributed $6 million of a $12 million goal, he said, adding additional donations are in the pipeline.

The mission then will raise $4.3 through a public capital campaign and has a commitment for $1.2 million for its existing building, Coley said. Officials also hope to raise $2.5 million more to add a fourth story to the building, he said.

That would increase the space from 65,000 to 80,000 square feet, Coley said. The mission now operates in 24,000 square feet, routinely housing men on cots in hallways and a chapel and hosting a health clinic in a former broom closet, he told attendees.

They included City Councilmen Russ Jehl, R-2nd, and Tom Didier, R-3rd; state Sen. Liz Brown, R-Fort Wayne; Eric Doden, chief executive officer of Greater Fort Wayne Inc.; and the Rev. Roger Reece, executive pastor of Associated Churches of Fort Wayne and Allen County.

Also watching the wrecking ball was Larry Weigand, chief executive officer of Weigand Construction in Fort Wayne, which will be the construction contractor. As the ball hit the building's third-story brick wall, leaving a gaping hole and tumbling debris, he broke into a broad grin and raised a fist in the air.

When you listen to Coley and his vision for the new building, Weigand said, you can't help but catch enthusiasm.

“I love these high-impact jobs in this community,” Weigand said.

rsalter@jg.net