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Headwaters Junction and Legacy Fort Wayne

Read the Headwaters Junction Light Lease Proposal.

In the initial years between 2006 and 2008, Headwaters Junction acquired a name, a dozen site sketches and layouts, and spent most of its time existing somewhere between imagination and college ruled paper. Its potential would be briefly seen in the efforts of the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society’s operation of Fort Wayne steam locomotive no. 765 as it magnetized towns across the midwest and amazed thousands of visitors throughout the year. Walt Disney once referred to steam locomotives as a “happening,” which is precisely what Headwaters Junction aims to create.

Since the plan was first walked up the stairs of the City-County building in Fort Wayne, timing has played an interesting role in the journey to share the concept with the community. From the region wide initiative known as Vision 2020, which aims to re-invent ourselves and our way of life in Northeast Indiana, to the renewed interest in redeveloping downtown, Headwaters Junction probably couldn’t have happened at a better time or place. It was created to build something that was “once in a lifetime,” to help reinvent the community, and deliver our story, culture, history, and character in a way that invited the world to join in. To discover (or rather stumble upon) the ongoing work of so many to elevate and tell our story has been immensely rewarding. More on that in a moment.

And after 12 months of sharing the Headwaters Junction Conceptual Development Plan with the community, earning their interest, feedback, and support, the establishment of Legacy Fort Wayne adds another unique turn to this project.

The light lease funds aim to “directly benefit the people of Fort Wayne and be used for purposes which will promote the cultural, recreational, public, civic or economic well being of the community.” If there was ever an alternate description of our project, we’d like to think this fits like a glove. In fact, many people voted for it as a potential use for the money in this online forum, where it has rotated through the top three slots since voting started. We were lucky when it was listed, as we had just created this website the day before!

Recognizing that there are countless ideas for how some or all of this money could be utilized and in response to the City of Fort Wayne’s request for proposals by interested groups and organizations, we’ve composed a proposal to help empower the Headwaters Junction effort as it relates to formalizing the concept, partnering with the city, and making North River worthy of developing. You can download our proposal for seed money – a small but important sum compared to the $70 million in overall funds – by clicking here or reading below.

Recently, representatives from the Downtown Improvement District, Arts United, Friends of the Rivers, Friends of the Parks, Fort Wayne Trails and Headwaters Junction met to discuss their respective efforts, individual proposals, and to see if they could be harmonized or if one could endorse the other. What has followed has been a series of renewed communication and participation between organizations, whose specific missions and dedicated people are working to help make our corner of the world remarkable. We are happy to have been a part of the discussion.

We believe this proposal succinctly and formally observes this wildly diverse and beneficial project and continue to appreciate your interest and support.

Proposal Summary

Concept/Project Title: Headwaters Junction Conceptual Development Plan
Brief Description: A mixed use gateway and downtown attraction project combining river, rail, and trail in a colorful, inviting public space for recreational, social, artistic, educational, and commercial activities. This is a proposal to allocate seed money to further pursue and develop this concept in concert with the City of Fort Wayne as a development opportunity for the North River property at 4th and Clinton Street.

Supporting Groups and Organizations

  • Bloomingdale Neighborhood Association
  • Nebraska Neighborhood Association
  • Northside Neighborhood Association
  • Wells Street Business Association
  • Young Leaders of Northeast Indiana
  • Fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce

Endorsed by

  • Downtown Improvement District
  • Fort Wayne Trails
  • Friends of the Rivers
  • Friends of the Parks
  • Arts United


Fort Wayne’s story is one of productivity, innovation, culture, and industry. Not only is it one worth telling, but if told well, can be something worth traveling to experience, staying to enjoy, and revisiting throughout the year.

Headwaters Junction is a proposal to tell that story in a colorful, sensory experience and lively urban space. Drawing inspiration from the city’s history, Headwaters Junction will create a distinctive, romantic, educational, and functional regional attraction that reinvents what identity means to Fort Wayne. As a theatrical backdrop to commercial and entertainment related development and additional attractions at North River, Headwaters Junction would set the stage for citizens and visitors to experience our city. Headwaters Junction’s experience begins within a charming, historically inspired setting: a re-invented railroad yard with characteristic architecture, lighting, greenspace, canal and water features, and evocative design.

Headwaters Junction has been conceived as an incredibly versatile quality of life project, but includes substantial economic development potential beyond downtown development, urban redevelopment, and tourism, and would include establishing a short line freight railroad to retain present industries on an underdeveloped railroad spur and actively pursue developing site-ready locations and a freight transloading and warehouse facility. These efforts would attract industry into the city in ways that a larger, national railroad cannot do, thereby providing the city and economic development agencies a powerful incentive for development.

In short, Headwaters Junction is designed to:

  • Establish a vibrant and distinctive gateway along Clinton Street and Lawton Park
  • Create a year-round magnet attraction and urban gathering space with multiple roles and functions
  • Redevelop the Nebraska and Bloomingdale Neighborhoods
  • Serve as a recreational link between Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, Science Central, Headwaters Park, Wells Street Corridor, the Rivergreenway, downtown, five area neighborhoods and enhance the Pufferbelly Trail
  • Provide tailored freight commerce service to existing local businesses while stimulating commercial and industrial development in underutilized sites
  • Encourage green transportation and fortify a walkable city
  • Host special STEM inspired programs, education outreach and apprenticeship curriculums for skill creation and talent retention
  • Anchor events that cultivate civic pride, entertainment, education
  • Stimulate additional commercial and riverfront development downtown

Headwaters Junction would require full support of the City of Fort Wayne, related economic development, commerce, railroad, and tourism entities, as well as area businesses.

Local, Long Term Benefits

An attractive downtown with diverse points of interest and uses is vital to enhancing quality of life and strengthening the core. By providing a richly mixed use development on North River, Fort Wayne would benefit from a variety of attractions that provide unique experiences and destinations throughout the city, including the riverfront gateway at 4th and Clinton. A development of this type would help positively alter public perceptions and enhance civic pride by being one that is home-grown, inspired by local cultural and history, follows closely with existing community plans, and also performs meaningful functions (freight rail service, light rail and recreational connections between the zoo, downtown, etc.) which maintain a world-wide appeal and lay groundwork for future expansion to connect Parkview Field, Harrison Square, and North River.

Headwaters Junction would incorporate new and existing attractions into its distinct offerings as an institutional anchor for other developments and as an attraction unto itself. At home within the development would be several tourist attractions that already maintain a proven following (900-3,000 visitors a day in 2009, 50,000 in 16 days) and events and operations that draw thousands downtown (2,000 – 40,000 in a weekend.) Visitors could board a vintage dining car, take a streetcar to a downtown market or the zoo, walk through clouds of steam at the downtown trailhead, hear an impromptu concert along the riverfront, or visit a brick-lined streetscape with locally owned shops, points of interest, restaurants, and more.

The route of the rail line (built on historic rail right of way and utilizing an existing line) enables visitors and tourists to experience Fort Wayne by historic train or streetcar as an alternative to driving downtown. Holidays, festivals, and event operations would only further the romantic experience of Headwaters Junction.

Catalytic Investment

Railroads have always been a major magnet for industrial, recreational, and economic development and investment, broadening the scope of funding considerably.

As evidenced by the New Mexico’s Santa Fe Railyard, a community driven effort to be its own developer to turn a blighted railyard into a mixed use core, numerous funding options can be magnetized to underwrite Headwaters Junction. Similar developments elsewhere such as the New York High Line have become major draws for corporate sponsorship and private investment. Additionally, TIF, CIB and CDBG monies would be remarkable fits for this type of project.

The Northeast Indiana Chamber described Headwaters Junction as “the most exciting plan for downtown and the only one that addresses culture, economic development, and tourism.” Support from the Nebraska, Bloomingdale, and Wells Corridor Associations have echoed these sentiments, adding that “Headwaters Junction far surpasses anything else previously presented for North River.” A number of business owners and civic leaders have also responded positively to this conceptual plan, increasing the overall likelihood of corporate and private investment.

Additional Resources

Significant opportunities exist for private investment, federal transportation and historic preservation grants, and corporate sponsorship. Specifically, transportation enhancement act (TEA) grants can cover up to 80% of an approved project and TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) can cover 100% of related project costs. Headwaters Junction’s primary funding sources can come from grants related to education, short line railroad, economic development, and historic preservation, just to name a few.

Community Plans

BluePrint Plus: “The visual character, historic features and natural assets inherent within the community should be retained and enhanced. Encourage development proposals that provide neighborhood commercial, civic, institutional and other similar uses, designed to allow adequate access for pedestrians and bicycles, in close proximity to housing. Maintain and enhance heritage corridors. Transportation corridors tell the history of the region.”

PlanIt!Allen: “Transform the neglected area north of the river into a vibrant and vital regional attraction. Create a walkable and urban mixed-use area integrated with surrounding neighborhoods. Strengthen the image of Fort Wayne as a family destination. Make the river central to downtown and the region.”

Vision 2020:
Economic Development – railroad attracting tourism and business development
Infrastructure – alternate transportation, complimenting rivers and trails
Quality of Life – cultural cornerstone, redeveloped mixed-use core downtown
21st Century Talent – education and apprenticeship programs
Entrepreneurship – development plan created by a local entrepreneur


Inspired by efforts of the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society in its spectacular preservation and sharing of the city’s mighty steam locomotive, one of the city’s legacies in the form of a living, breathing time machine has already been guaranteed for the future.

This could be the next step in a new legacy to better share with the community the significant cultural assets and tourist attractions owned and operated by the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society and to realize an uncommon and important development opportunity with these assets in a development with 21st Century needs and desires in mind.