Opnion: Aunt Millie’s withdraws vacation request

Ben Lanka is reporting on the Journal Gazette website that Aunt Millie’s has withdrawn it’s partial vacation request of Pearl Street.

They were asking that the City vacate the one block portion of Pearl Street between Ewing and Webster Street.  Aunt Millie’s then planned to build loading docks along with the installation of landscaping around the property.  (Download the proposed development plan)

In his article, Ben states:

[…] Citing rising costs for the work and a lack of support, Aunt Millie’s Bakeries canceled its $400,000 proposal to expand its loading dock and close a downtown side street.

[…] Miller also wrote that the city’s recent rezoning of downtown made it nearly impossible to expand its operations downtown. He said the company may ask to vacate Pearl at a later time.

[…] Council President Tom Smith, R-1st, said the project offered complicated issues, and he was grateful the company took some of the community concerns into consideration. He said he had no opposition to eliminating the street, but he did think the city should temporarily close it first to ensure traffic patterns were not hurt.

“I hope they still have great plans to stay here,” Smith said.

About 800 vehicles travel that section of the street daily, many of them bakery employees. Aunt Millie’s employs 1,600, including 250 in Fort Wayne.

I have the same thoughts when I watched this unfold before the Council back in July.  What complicated issues?  And what exactly would a temporary closure prove?  Are you going to have someone with a clipboard stationed to take down motorists comments?  How do you really measure the affects of such a closure?  In my experience, and I consider myself a pretty good authority since I walk that stretch at least twice a day, almost seven days a week, are that the only people that use it are bakery employees, those going to the thrift store – which is extremely busy, especially with Monday Madness, and those who are taking a short cut or treating it as a speedway to avoid Main.

Some of the complication dealt with the City giving up an asset and not being able to recoup anything from it.  I certainly understand that.  But look at the bigger picture.  This company has been downtown for over a hundred years.  They are a for-profit company which means they pay taxes.  They contribute to the welfare of this community, both in taxes and numerous non-profit donations made.  They were not going to ask for a tax abatement on this project nor have the had one since the 1980s.  Does this mean they should be given the street no questions asked?  No, but I would think we’d be a bit more open to working something out instead of throwing up obstacles and arguments.

I know that surrounding businesses were upset because parking spaces would be eliminated.  Yet, there are hardly ever any cars parked in that stretch, let alone the next block between Webster and Maiden Lane.

To be honest, I am just a little bit confused about Miller’s comments about the rezoning.  Didn’t Aunt Millie’s sign off on the rezoning?  I certainly didn’t hear them raise objections when it was before Council.  In fact, I remember someone asking if they had any issues with it and the response from the City employee at the table was none.  So that bothers me just a bit.

I certainly hope Aunt Millie’s will have a continued presence downtown and that we have not once again shot ourselves in the foot.  The loss of that fresh baked bred aroma wafting through downtown would be immeasurable, not to mention the activity this company brings into our downtown.

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