The following is an excerpt of the updated proposal to Legacy Fort Wayne for Headwaters Junction in the category of downtown/riverfront development. This summary concentrates largely on the core concepts of the proposal itself. For more details, view the original conceptual development plan or view the archives.
Headwaters Junction is a mixed use gateway and downtown attraction concept combining river, rail, and trail development on North River and the surrounding areas. It demonstrates how mixed-use development can be realized as an exceptional investment, creating an anchor for an attraction that weaves the city’s existing assets and identity together in an authentic, active, and compelling experience.
Headwaters Junction offers a destination that provides space for retail, recreational, and entertainment venues, arts and cultural areas, live/work destinations, performance and green spaces populated by locally owned businesses and institutions. Important to consider is how a development of this significance will be vibrant and imaginative and what it will ultimately say about Fort Wayne. By combining three of the city’s greatest resources – river, rail, and trail – North River becomes an anchor to development that is both functional and meaningful while reflecting the culture of the region. These popular modes of transportation carry people to, from, and through the riverfront and nearby neighborhoods and create the “vital and vibrant mixed use area” suggested by 2005’s Blueprint Plus report.
Specific to the Headwaters Junction proposal is a transit-oriented attraction inspired by North River’s historic use as a railroad yard. Designed and integrated with emphasis on walkability, experiential offerings, and “city/industry in a garden” aesthetics, it provides recreation and connectivity between area points of interest and hosts one-of-a-kind attractions, activities and events. Year-round tourist and community activities become the cornerstone to North River development.
Railroad themed developments have proven immensely successful in other cities, attracting anywhere from up to and over 400,000 visitors annually. Taking Headwaters Junction’s distinctions a step further would be steam locomotive no. 765, which the city preserved at 4th and Clinton Streets in 1963. Maintained for its role in opening the downtown railroad overpass and brought back to operation with all volunteer labor by non-profit group Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society, Inc (FWRHS), The Journal Gazette heralded that the 765 “signals the city’s progressive energy and its foresight in serving important national traditions.”
After restoration in 1979, this locomotive became a national tourist attraction on passenger excursion and public exhibition trains, attracting an average 3,000 people per day. A national historic landmark with wheels, it experienced a record 40,000 visitors from all fifty states and five countries in four days alone in 2011 making it a global attraction that could find a new home at North River.
The legacy that the city sought to preserve in 1963 exists today an attraction that is largely unknown to city residents and kept in a storage facility east of New Haven when not in use. At this facility, the FWRHS maintains other locomotives, passenger cars, and related railroad equipment that are underutilized in their service to the public. The locomotive, operating tourist rail line, and a few recreated and functional railroad structures give North River the sensory experience that make it the centerpiece to riverfront development. History may create the backdrop to development, but its implementation enlivens mixed use along the riverfront and nearby neighborhoods in an approach that respects the interests and sensibilities of the 21st Century.
As the home to a proven attraction distinct to Fort Wayne, North River would provide a compelling stage for restaurants, cafes, lifestyle centers, a year-round public market, public art, water related attractions, river access, and more. Developers would find the permanence, vibrancy, and foot traffic that accommodates rail a powerful incentive for investment unique to enterprising transit attractions in this new cultural corridor and gateway to downtown.
On a reactivated railroad right of way between Franke Park Drive, Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, North River, Pufferbelly Trail, Historic Wells Corridor, and a connection to the national railroad system at Runnion Avenue, the city has a singular opportunity to capitalize on its own history to create an attraction that tells the city’s story visually, practically, and romantically. With Headwaters Junction, all tracks lead to downtown.
RL Banks & Associates (Arlington, Virginia) a railroad consulting firm specializing in tourist and railroad development, has proposed a feasibility study for $140,250 and could also perform a preliminary ridership and visitation study for $2,500. FA Goodman Architects (Columbus, Ohio), a mixed-use and railroad architectural firm, has expressed interest to help further design and envision what Headwaters Junction would be like. Initial research indicates that Headwaters Junction would cost between $20-30 million. Funding for these could be acquired through general fundraising or grants for gateway/tourism initiatives.
The mixed use, railroad, cultural and tourism related nature of the proposal and the history of the property provide opportunities for private and public sector investment exist, as do opportunities for federal transportation enhancement and historic preservation grants. Locomotive 765’s restoration to operation was 80% underwritten by grants alone.
OVERSIGHT AND MANAGEMENT
The author recommends that Headwaters Junction becomes a significant part of a master riverfront district. The railroad specific development would be overseen by an project manager and later an executive director working in tandem with a riverfront district commission.
BENEFIT TO THE COMMUNITY AND CATALYTIC BENEFITS
– Development plan that positively impacts five area neighborhoods
– Historically inspired gateway, cultural corridor that says something about Fort Wayne
– Dynamic anchor for institutional, commercial development
– Creates density and diversity of attractions from Parkview Field to the Zoo
– Creates walkable/mixed use core, harmonizes with existing community plans
– Helps make downtown a destination, provides home to world-famous locomotive
– Locally owned railroad line working to attract business, improve neighborhoods
– Educational opportunities and programs for children, young adults
Capable of bringing over 100,000 additional people downtown every year, all year long.
Thomas the Tank Engine – doubles attendance with a child favorite. [50,000 visitors in five days.]
Polar Express – passengers ride to the North Pole, typical attendance: 3,000 passengers per day
Dinner Trains – dinner and wine train service, perfect for family and corporate outings.
Baseball Trains – families ride the train downtown to Parkview Field instead of drive.
Connecting Trains – seasonal trains connect the Zoo, Science Central, Headwaters Junction, linking three major attractions with trails and rails.