When the Fort Wayne Redevelopment Commission voted to assume Headwaters Junction's purchase agreement for 7.5 acres of Norfolk & Southern right of way this week, it might have looked like the railroad-themed attraction had finally run out of steam.
But the accompanying pledge to work with the Headwaters Junction board puts the city on record in support of the project. Its home won't be a high-profile site north of the St. Marys River, but prospects for another location keep Headwaters Junction alive.
“I want to thank the Headwaters Junction Board of Directors for transferring the purchase agreement to the Redevelopment Commission and I look forward to working with them as they bring their vision of creating a vibrant regional destination to life,” Redevelopment Commission Director Nancy Townsend said in a news release.
“Vibrant regional destination” is a good description for the project, which includes a 1940s-era roundhouse, interpretive center and an excursion railroad to host the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society's popular Santa train and other seasonal events. Wherever it lands, it's likely to draw visitors of all ages from near and far. The society's Nickel Plate Road steam locomotive No. 765 draws crowds on every trip.
It's too bad the consultant hired to create plans for the next phase of riverfront development couldn't envision Headwaters Junction there, but city officials have rightly promised it has a future somewhere in Fort Wayne. The project deserves a place in a community with a railroad heritage as rich as its river history.
We're still holding out hopes for a route from the roundhouse to the riverfront because Promenade Park proves visitors want things to do, not just a passive experience. You'll find kids and adults splashing in the Doermer Kids Canal almost any time. You'll see kayaks and paddleboards drifting from the launch site near Fort Wayne Outfitters. And while it is dry-docked this season, the Sweet Breeze carried boatloads of riverfront enthusiasts last year.
Adding the option of a ride on a historic locomotive would create a powerful draw to downtown and the riverfront someday.
But we'll be patient – Parkview Field taught us good things come to those who wait.