Headwaters Junction is a tourist attraction planned for downtown Fort Wayne\’s riverfront. Inspired by the city\’s formidable history as a railroad town, Headwaters Junction is home to numerous, popular railroad tourist attractions and restored railroad equipment. Annual programming and events include seasonal and holiday train rides, dinner trains, education outreach programs, special  exhibitions, and regional excursions. Headwaters Junction is planned to include a recreated railroad roundhouse, turntable, mixed use venue for public and private events, a short-line railroad, and operating trains.

The intent behind Headwaters Junction is to create a unique public space for recreation, commerce and entertainment, and education by providing a variety of opportunities, attractions, and experiences.

Comparable developments in design and execution have proven popular in New York City, Santa Fe, New Mexico, Portland, Oregon, and Sacramento, California.

Legacy Fort Wayne is a program of community investment, empowered by over $70 million in funds from the sale and lease of the city’s electric utility to Indiana Michigan Power.

The principles of Legacy Fort Wayne specify that “use of the funds should directly benefit the people of Fort Wayne and the fund should be used for purposes which will promote the cultural, recreational, public, civic or economic well being of the community.”

With this focus, Mayor Tom Henry created the Legacy Task Force to consider potential uses for the light lease funds through strategic investment, identifying three areas for Legacy Fund consideration: economic vitality, downtown and riverfront development, and youth development and youth/prep sports.

Headwaters Junction was initially submitted to Legacy Fort Wayne via public voting in early 2011, becoming one of the top three voted ideas. It was also advanced by the Legacy Fort Wayne Task Force as the only project that met the following criteria:

  • supported by [community] plans
  • high level of community support
  • had catalytic potential

Headwaters Junction was formally endorsed by the Riverfront Champion Team in mid-2012 as “big, bold, and transformative.”

Simply put, trains are awesome. But that’s not all.

At the turn of the 20th century Fort Wayne, Indiana was a vibrant railroad town, hosting six railroads and employing thousands. The city once built its own locomotives and freight and passenger cars and railroad yards occupied several downtown neighborhoods. North River was once an expansive railroad yard that connected the city to Chicago, Mackinac Island, Detroit, New York, just to name a few destinations. Much of Fort Wayne’s industrious story is in its railroads, and its especially true at North River.

In the original plan for Headwaters Park, architect Eric Kuhn envisioned a network of trails and rails connecting area attractions and points of interest, intending for North River to become “Grand Central Park.” Like Kuhn’s original plan, Headwaters Junction takes significant cues from city and regional history and combines together existing community assets like the rivers, rails, and trails.

Using a portion of recreated railroad line, the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, Science Central, the riverfront, trail network, several area neighborhoods, Wells Street Corridor, Harrison Street  could be directly linked.

The rail line will serve as a tourist railroad, hosting dozens of events, dinner trains, excursions, and outings throughout the year and provide a home to several world-renown, vintage trains, which would be operated out of, maintained, and experienced by the public in a series of recreated railroad structures. These facilities would be designed as dual-purpose spaces for public, private, and railroad activities, providing the drama, atmosphere, and sensory experience of the Junction.

In addition, the rail line will continue to serve and encourage area business and industry as a short line railroad.

Tourist trains would operate local trips lasting anywhere from 30-minutes to an hour or more, while longer excursions could depart downtown to other destinations in the Midwest. Many communities have taken advantage of short line railroads which serve the local economy, and others enjoy the presence of a tourist railroad as major economic drivers throughout the year.

The railroad and public railyard would provide the theatrical and sensory backdrop to a variety of mixed uses at North River with its own schedule, programming, events, and offerings.

The design of Headwaters Junction will encourage pedestrian exploration of the unique settings provided in the railroad yard and buildings. Decorative fencing and bollards will guide walkable areas.

Train movements will be conducted at reduced speed (known as yard limits or restricted speed) within Headwaters Junction and volunteers and employees would protect movements on the ground while trains are in motion and the public is present. Signage and signaling will also inform visitors of train movements.

Fort Wayne is bordered at the north and south by two busy rail lines and the railroad’s presence near and within the heart of the city is well established.

Locomotive horns and whistles are part of the atmosphere and experience of Headwaters Junction, but are also sounded infrequently. A good comparison would be to point to the frequency and impact of baseball games at Parkview Field.

Methods such as flagging crossings enable train movements around the yard to be conducted without the need for whistle or horn signaling.

Train movements and related sounds will mostly be relegated to regular business hours and during peak seasons and operation of streetcars will lessen audible train movements. As part of their operation, steam locomotives smoke intermittently. When operated efficiently, they produce little to no smoke at all.

 

From recreating and preserving railroad infrastructure, establishing short line railroads with tourist train service, and building commercial, retail, and residential areas in, on, around and among railroad attractions, the following cities have embarked on projects with similarities to Headwaters Junction, proving the concept’s merits elsewhere in the country.

SANTA FE NEW MEXICO RAILYARDS

Population: 62,203

Santa Fe has redeveloped 50 acres of blighted industrial and abandoned railroad properties into a versatile destination including public parks, retail, recreation, and entertainment venues and live/work destinations. The Railyards are populated by locally owned businesses and institutions and is served by a local short line that provides dinner train and tourism service. Funding for this project has been provided by state economic development grants, the City of Santa Fe, and the New Mexico Finance Authority.

OLD SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA

Population: 500,200

Old Sacramento encompasses the California State Railroad Museum and an urban core on 28 acres of a National Historic Landmark District. Set to the backdrop of the California Gold Rush and Transcontinental Railroad, the district contains shopping, dining, entertainment, historical attractions and museums. The railroad operates strictly passenger trains on 6 miles of track along the Sacramento River. 300,000 visitors explore the museum, 70,000 ride the train, and 650,000 attend events at the museum every year.

Nearby, the Sacramento Railyards will become a “240-acre master-planned, mixed-use transit-oriented infill project located at the former Union Pacific Railyards. Bordering the Sacramento River, the site is adjacent to and just north of the Sacramento Central Business District. The property is entitled for over 3 million square feet of housing, office, retail, hotel, as well as historic and cultural uses.”

NEW YORK HIGHLINE, NEW YORK CITY

Population: 18.9 Million

The High Line is a public park built on an historic freight rail line elevated above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side. Founded in 1999 by community residents, it is maintained as an extraordinary public space for all visitors to enjoy. The High Line has catalyzed development throughout its neighborhood and attracted 3.7 million visitors in 2011.

PORTLAND, OREGON WATERFRONT DISTRICT

Population: 582,130

A brand new riverfront redevelopment district adjacent to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, the master plan for this district “envisions a pedestrian plaza that connects tourist attractions with proposed retail and educational facilities.”

Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish describes it as “a major attraction zone. By investing in this project, Portlanders are helping build a district where science, education, and transportation intersect to offer families a unique recreational experience.”

The project also gives home to Portland, Oregon\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\’s very own steam locomotives in a high-profile, public space and on a nearby shortline railroad. Fort Wayne and Portland share the distinction of having their own operating steam locomotives.

A broad range of funding options are available for projects of this type given its scope covers economic development, historic preservation, brownfield renewal, railroad and trail development.

As a project of Legacy Fort Wayne, Headwaters Junction would require matching funds or leveraging dollars, creating opportunities for private and corporate sponsorship.

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