Opinion: Calhoun Street vote

Sketch of Calhoun Street widening project, courtesy of the City.

Tonight, the Fort Wayne City Council votes on the Calhoun Street widening project.  This project boils down into three arguments.

The first argument centers around the two block stretch and it’s “charm”.  This word has been used to describe the area’s tree canopy and it’s walkability.  There have been many cries of foul surrounding the removal of the existing trees from the area.  The City feels they have reached the end of their productive lifespan and need to be replaced with a better soil system which would sustain a better, more robust canopy.  Opponents cry foul because it won’t be the same.  They are right in that there will be five trees less in the area and that it will take some years for the trees to fill in and even begin to approach what exists now.  But according to the City, down the road it will be a vast improvement.

The charm of the area is often mentioned in the same breath as the fact that restaurants have set up tables on the sidewalks and diners flock to the area during the summer months.  But there are only two restaurants that avail themselves of this privilege.  I might add that these tables on the sidewalk make it difficult to traverse the area during their busy times.  I believe Higher Grounds has a few tables outside, but they don’t seem to be quite as popular.

Yes, the area is charming – but could it be even more charming with more usable sidewalk?  That seems to be the City’s argument and I think there’s something to it.  The planters are beautifully done this year.  But they haven’t always been.  In some years past, the plantings were slim and it was truly wasted space.  The City’s plan will eliminate the planters, but they will be replaced with smaller versions.  There will not be quite as many planters, but I’m sure what will be there will always be cared for.


The second argument centers around traffic patterns and the effects of this one-way stretch on downtown.  Navigating our downtown is daunting for out-of-town visitors.  We locals, that live and work downtown, have become used to it.  But, it is the single most frequently mentioned argument I hear for not coming downtown, seconded only by the parking argument.  With the Grand Wayne Center closing of Harrison Street, and the Library’s closing of Webster Street, that argument only ratcheted up a notch.  (It should be noted that the opinion of those who visit downtown is just as important as those who live and work downtown as it takes both groups to have a vibrant downtown.)

The City has a traffic study which makes it a point of saying the two block stretch needs to go back to two-way traffic. When you examine the overall traffic grid of our downtown, it really does not make any sense to have this one-way stretch of Calhoun in the middle of our City, let alone on one of the few remaining North-South arteries.  There are currently only two arteries through the downtown on the north-south axis – Clinton/Lafayette and Ewing/Fairfield.  Harrison Street used to be, but with it’s partial closure that route is off  the table.  Calhoun Street does not run entirely through the North side, but is only one block over from Harrison Street.

What’s even more demonstrative of the confusion this one-way stretch causes, is trying to tell someone how to get to Wells Fargo or the Oyster Bar on Calhoun from say, Headwaters Park.  By the time you get through explaining that you can’t get there merely by taking Calhoun Street, even though both are just off that street, most people look at you as if you’re crazy – and sometimes I wonder about that.  I know this happens because I deal with it on almost a daily basis during the winter months.

But the argument was made in last week’s City Council meeting that the implications of this two block, one-way stretch are bigger than just the two block, one-way stretch.  The effects of essentially blocking off this artery have drifted down to those businesses on the south portion of Calhoun.  I’ll admit, the first time I heard this argument, I thought it to be mere propaganda.

But, I have seen first-hand the decision made by people not to patronize a business south of downtown on Calhoun because it seemed to be too much trouble to navigate.  I would point out the fact they could simply take Clinton all the way through downtown and skip over one block to their destination – to no avail.  This may seem ridiculous to those of us who are “pros” at downtown navigation, but it’s not to visitors and that is what is important.  It must make sense to everyone – or people will not return and we become endangered of stagnating the momentum that’s accumulated thus far.

This one-way stretch is truly a blockage in the heart of downtown that must be converted.  If there’s even the remote possibility it is holding back businesses or the downtown momentum, it must be righted.  To solely concentrate on the two block stretch and it’s charm is to ignore the bigger picture.


The final argument is the cost.  The City has done a great job of value-engineering this project down to a more palatable expense, while preserving some of the “charm” of the stretch.

But, the question to be asked is whether or not we should be spending just over a million dollars at this particular time.  You must also remember, that this project’s revenue stream is from a CEDIT Bond.  The City receives it’s CEDIT dollars twice a year from the State.  The City is allowed to borrow money in anticipation of receiving these CEDIT dollars.  I’ve heard the justification for this is that it smoothes out the bumps and allows construction projects to move forward with little or no delays caused by funding.

While there is something to that argument, there is also the flip side which is that the city pays interest and issuance fees on the bonds.  You can figure that for every dollar spent on  a construction project, anywhere from another dollar to two dollars will be spent on the interest and issuance costs.  So a project initially costing $1 million, can end up costing 2 or 3 million by the time the borrowing costs are paid off.  Councilmen Mitch Harper and John Shoaff have both discussed in City Council sessions their issues with borrowing money, then taking 30 years to pay it back incurring interest and issuance costs.

The question then becomes, is this a wise way to spend the taxpayer’s money?  Remember these are 30 year bonds.  Often times, at the end of the 30 years, when the bond is finally paid off, either repairs have been made or have to be considered to the area you just paid off – and it’s time to do it all over again.  It can be a vicious cycle.  And the 2 or 3 million you spent on the borrowing costs could have gone to other projects, instead of a bond-holder’s pocketbook.

Angst has been expressed over the “constant” changing of this two block stretch.  While I can understand this, the bigger picture is that each change was made with the best knowledge available at the time or what the current trends were indicating in such cases.  To say that’s it, no more change will ultimately lead to the destruction of the very thing our community has worked hard to revitalize.  While I’m not advocating change for the sake of change, I do think we need to keep our options open and correct that which has obviously not worked.


The issue before Council tonight is not so much about charm.  Charm is really the secondary concern.  The issue is what is best for the downtown as a whole, balanced with the fiscally correct choice as well.  Obviously, something needs to be done about this stretch of Calhoun.  Is this the right time and the right use of dollars given the coming fiscal shape of our government?  That’s the question faced by Council tonight.

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