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The Journal Gazette

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette The area between the old Wells Street Bridge and the Harrison Street Bridge will be the focus of Phase I of riverfront development. A 0.15 percent tax increase has been proposed to help finance the project.

  • John Crawford is an at-large member of the Fort Wayne City Council.

Sunday, June 18, 2017 1:00 am

The bang for your bucks

Riverfront may start new wave of development

John Crawford

To attend

Public hearings are scheduled for comment on the proposed local income tax increase, at Citizens Square at 5:30 p.m. June 27 and July 11.

City Council is expected to begin discussion of the proposal on June 27. A vote could come as early as July 11, after a follow-up discussion.

City Council is considering an increase in the local income tax of 0.15 percent to provide a revenue stream for riverfront development and improved sidewalks/alleys. The Allen County income tax is currently 1.35 percent. Even if this should pass, we will still be below the state average of 1.59 percent and the rate of almost all of our surrounding counties.

The possible tax increase is an optional decision. The riverfront development debate is reminiscent of the downtown baseball stadium issue 10 years ago. Many citizens were opposed then, but now 80 percent of people like it because it is first class and a nice place for families to go. When I voted for it 10 years ago, I also had many concerns as to whether or not it was the right vote. There was no question we could build a nice new stadium, but it would not be worth it to allocate scarce public dollars unless it spawned a great deal of private investment.

The city spent about $25 million on the baseball stadium. We have seen at least $200 million thus far in private investment that almost certainly would not have happened without momentum generated by the baseball stadium. The new developments include renovation of the Anthony Wayne building, Randall Lofts, Superior Street Lofts, Ash Headquarters, Skyline Tower, Cityscape Flats, Fortezza and City Exchange.

This growth generates increased property taxes, income taxes from new jobs created, and increased sales taxes. The public money spent on the project gradually is returned to the city budget from the increased tax revenue.

The baseball stadium and resultant downtown development have improved our quality of place. Fort Wayne is now seen as having positive momentum and as a more desirable place to live, work and play. New downtown residents say, “It's an exciting time to be downtown.” A young professional stated, “I got to see what was happening (downtown), and it really helped me want to stay here.” This is key today in attracting young professionals and companies with the jobs of the future to come to Fort Wayne. Site selectors that help companies find new locations to headquarter or expand tell us that quality of place and quality of life are now as important in the decision to locate as the classical economic development tools of tax rates and tax abatements.

City Council decisions are often difficult, and one has to answer unknowable questions at the time of the vote. When we voted for the baseball stadium, it was our collective judgment that it would be a good investment of public money. Now, 10 years after the vote, I am sure it was the right vote and has paid great dividends.

We have already committed about $20 million for Phase I of riverfront development, which is fully funded from the Legacy and Regional Cities funds, and private donations. This will provide for the riverfront promenade, a new pavilion, a tree-top walk, and many other exciting features. However, this is basically a park. I consider this as preparing the soil around which we hope the private development will later spring as happened with the baseball stadium.

Phases II and III of the riverfront will also require public funding in the range of $100 million over the next 10 years. Cities such as Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Greenville, South Carolina, that have developed their riverfronts have seen much private investment follow. We estimate anywhere from $500 million to $1 billion of private investment is likely to occur.

The ultimate strategy behind downtown development is not just to have a pretty downtown or attractive riverfront. The goal is to attract more young people and companies here. This will increase the average wage and grow our economy. That benefits everyone in the area, and that is why I believe increasing the tax is a good long-term move.

Any new tax should be vigorously debated with extensive public input. All new taxes are usually opposed by many citizens and often with very good reasons. We have received many emails prompted by national organizations like Americans For Prosperity which almost always oppose any tax increase, no matter what.

City Council members want to hear from citizens for and against this proposed tax increase. If you are in favor, it is particularly important for you to get involved and contact Council members since we often hear proportionally more from those opposed to new things. Contact numbers are on the city website or call 427-1445 to obtain them.