Text: 2010 State of the City address

The text of Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry’s State of the City address, delivered on February 10, 2010, at the IPFW Rhinehart Music Center.

Good evening. Thank you, Chancellor Wartell, for your warm welcome. I am honored to be here at IPFW, a key partner in strengthening the economy of Fort Wayne and northeast Indiana. Over 80 percent of IPFW students remain here after graduation. That success is shared by all our local colleges and universities, including Indiana Tech, the University of Saint Francis and Ivy Tech Northeast.

Workforce development, through higher education, vocational programs and trade apprenticeships, is an investment in our talent and our future. Manchester College’s decision to start a pharmacy program at Parkview Hospital’s Randallia campus is a prime example of the important role higher education plays in growing our economy. This is the only pharmacy program in all of northern Indiana. It will connect our powerful regional healthcare networks with one of the fastest-growing areas of employment.

In America, education has always created the chance for people to get ahead, and those opportunities are even more crucial now. We are improving the likelihood of job success through the new Talent Initiative, which is a result of our efforts with workforce and economic development agencies and educational institutions. Funded through a $20 million grant from the Lilly Endowment, the initiative will prepare our workforce for high-skill jobs focusing on science, technology, engineering and math. The Community Foundation, the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership and its foundation, WorkOne, IPFW, Ivy Tech and local school corporations including Fort Wayne Community and East Allen are working hard to keep Fort Wayne working in a high-tech economy.

In fact, the six planned New Tech high schools, with a focus on project-based learning, will give Northeast Indiana a higher concentration of this innovative program than any other region in the country.

We are living in tough economic times, tougher than any we’ve seen in 75 years. The pain of these difficult times and the hardships experienced by many are something I carry with me every day as Mayor. Still, I am convinced that Fort Wayne will both survive and thrive. Why? Because we have the energy, the ideas, the spirit and the courage to take the tough and transform it into a brighter tomorrow for all of us.

We have a legacy of innovation that can come to life again. We are a proud, hard working people who never give up, who rise to every challenge and demonstrate the best in humanity when the going gets rough. That is why I am working every moment of every day to keep Fort Wayne working. That is why I believe that by working together, we can keep Fort Wayne growing. My friends, together we are stronger.

A story that best reflects that philosophy and my singular focus on job creation is our Fort Wayne General Motors plant. Although GM announced the closure of 14 plants last year, we not only weathered the storm, the local plant came out larger and stronger.

We can all celebrate the retention and attraction of those nearly 3,000 jobs. The decision to expand the Fort Wayne plant showcases our outstanding workforce, infrastructure, positive business climate and the incentives brought together by the City and County.

Nowhere is our “together, we are stronger” message more vital than in our economic development efforts. Our work with Allen County, the Regional Partnership, the Fort Wayne-Allen County Economic Development Alliance, the Downtown Improvement District, and the Northeast Indiana Innovation Center shows our commitment to making this community more attractive to new jobs and business growth. We know we need available sites for industrial development, coordinated long-term infrastructure and new mechanisms like the Downtown Development Corporation to jumpstart business – and we are on it.

Making the best trucks in the world is part of our DNA. It is part of our innovation heritage. That’s why the fate of Navistar’s engineering facility is of such concern. I was pleased Navistar officials accepted my ‘invitation to meet with them. But you can be sure that I will continue to do everything in my power working with community leaders along with the Alliance plus state and federal officials to fight for these jobs in northeast Indiana. There is no better place to design the next generation of highly efficient trucks than here in Fort Wayne.

The success of Canlan Ice Sports and the two hotels now under construction have enhanced our city in unique ways. I brought together a consortium of seven local banks to make the downtown Courtyard by Marriott a reality. I wish to thank these banks for stepping up in these tough economic times. The Town Place Suites by Marriott and ice rink puts the spotlight on additional private developers who are building this remarkable facility. Thank you. These projects are creating full-time jobs and increasing our desirability for conventions and events, while adding 300 well-placed rooms. How many other communities can tout these wins in this economy?

As other cities cut vital services, lay off police officers and firefighters, and close facilities, Fort Wayne is working hard to maintain the City services our residents expect. Our City has been able to avoid any cuts in core services. Through strong fiscal management, hard work, and innovative, cost-saving measures, our City ended 2009 $2.3 million under budget.

That does not mean I am not concerned about property tax caps and how they will affect our future budgets, but Fort Wayne is well positioned financially. Other Indiana cities are discussing new revenue streams, but this is not needed in Fort Wayne. Let me reassure you, I will not put any additional burdens on our non-profit organizations, who are creating jobs and delivering important services.

Working together to keep Fort Wayne growing means a local government that is equipped and ready to lead, ready to welcome new jobs and ready meet the public’s expectations. That is why I am determined to find a community solution to the space needs of City and County government. With the plan to put public safety in the City-County Building and our administrative teams in 200 East Berry Street – the only workable solution, we have a chance to come together as a community, make things easier for our residents and make local government work better.

We must rise above the outmoded ways of doing business and make City and County government more efficient, responsive, and cost effective. We have a rare opportunity to do something that is right for today and right for generations to come. Let’s have the courage to get it done and be the one, great community I know we can be. Together, we are stronger.

And nowhere is that more important tha in ou life-saving 911 comunications.

With the recent news of the Sheriff’s acceptance, we are excited and hopeful that a joint agreement will soon be signed.

We are working hard to capture our fair share of stimulus funds because they bring jobs and new investment to our community. So far the City has secured more than $19 million in stimulus funds, not to mention the millions going to schools, non-profits and businesses. This year, $3 million of that money will pay for repaving key thoroughfares in our city – Jefferson and Washington boulevards, Wayne and Berry streets, Rudisill Boulevard and East State Boulevard.

This new money will also improve our sewers, trails and airports, plus social service and law enforcement programs and mostly importantly create and retain jobs.

Speaking of law enforcement, in 2009, the Fort Wayne Police Department, under Chief Rusty York’s leadership, reported an 8 and a quarter percent reduction in overall crime as compared to 2008. More importantly, 2009 marked the lowest crime rate in Fort Wayne in 30 years; yes, the lowest crime rate in three decades. I am proud that our Fort Wayne police officers continue to look at ways to prevent, not just respond, to crime.

The new northeast outpost on East State Boulevard is a great example of taking action. After a string of business robberies, the police department worked with Parkview Hospital and is now using a building on their campus. As a result we saw the number of robberies in that area drop.

Tonight I am also excited to announce my intent to create the “Bank on Fort Wayne” program. This new initiative will generate opportunities for any Fort Wayne residents who have relied on expensive check-cashing services and payday loan operations. This initiative will allow them to open bank accounts at local financial institutions while also receiving financial tools. Founded on the success of similar programs in Evansville and other cities, I see Bank on Fort Wayne as a win-win. It will allow some of Fort Wayne’s hardest working residents to keep more of the money they earn, save for the future, and establish relationships with local banks. I look forward to working with Councilman Hines with his banking experience, as well as the financial institutions here in Fort Wayne on this important project.

I am also working hard to create the necessary infrastructure for business growth and success of Fort Wayne residents and families.

This spring, construction will start on the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Bridge on Clinton Street, creating a new gateway into downtown. With about 80% of the cost coming from state and federal funds, this bridge is designed for all users: vehicles, pedestrians and bicyclists, and will remind people every day of the legacy of America’s best-known civil rights leader.

Work is also scheduled to begin this year on Ardmore Avenue between Jefferson and Taylor Street, Auburn Road between Cook and Clinton and Washington Center Road at Dartmouth Drive.

I am working hard to make Fort Wayne’s transportation network accessible to all users. This year City staff will complete our Bike Fort Wayne and Comprehensive Sidewalk Connectivity plans, which will be adopted into the City-County comprehensive plan. These initiatives are designed to make it easier for Fort Wayne residents and visitors to walk or bike to places they normally would have driven.

I cannot overlook my commitment to investing in trails, including $3 million of stimulus funds going into their expansion and improvements. With the completion of Phase 4 of the Towpath Trail this year, you will be able to walk or bike across Allen County from Aboite Township to New Haven on 49 contiguous miles of multiuse trails.

This is a landmark achievement for our community and has happened only because the City worked with the County, New Haven, Aboite New Trails, Northwest Allen Trails and the Greenway Consortium.

In 2010 our City Utilities division will concentrate on providing the high-quality service and system enhancements that improve our quality of life, strengthen neighborhoods and support job growth through the increased capacity of our water and sewer systems.

City Utilities will continue its partnership with the Anthis Career Center to give students hands-on experience with concrete street restoration following City Utilities repairs. Undoubtedly as we move forward with the long-term control plan, there will be opportunities in engineering and other construction support jobs in Fort Wayne in the foreseeable future.

Jobs are an important component of our Utility. Last year more than 700 jobs were created or retained through nearly 40 City Utilities projects. We will continue to invest in the system in 2010, with most of these jobs going to our local workforce.

Although our utility is facing budget constraints, we continue to find new ways to save money through efficiencies and innovation.

Our rivers are Fort Wayne’s signature natural feature. They define us and unify us.

I am working hard to transform them into a landmark asset we all can enjoy. City Utilities will continue to comply with the federally mandated yet unfunded Consent Decree.

This year investments of nearly $82 million will go to projects that reduce the raw sewage that goes into our rivers and provide clean drinking water to our residents. Currently we have about one billion gallons of combined sewer overflow going into our local waterways. When this project is done, we will have reduced the untreated overflow by 90%.

Under the leadership of Bob Kennedy, 2009 Public Works Leader of the Year, we are reducing the threat of flooding to Fort Wayne families. This year, with a $1.5 million FEMA and Indiana Department of Homeland Security grant, we will purchase about 52 homes through voluntary buyouts in the Junk Ditch area. We will buy the homes at market value, restore the land to greenspace and forever end the concern about high water for these families.

In 2009 we protected about 150 homes from flooding on the St. Marys River with the flood-control projects in the Woodhurst, Southwood Park and Park-Thompson neighborhoods. With these buyouts and projects on our three rivers, we are closer than ever to the day when residential flooding is a thing of the past in Fort Wayne.

When I ran for mayor, I called for renewed attention to Fort Wayne’s rivers.

I am pleased to see that from Invent Tomorrow’s community visits and surveys the Number 1 request from our citizens was to use our waterways. As a result, a group called “Friends of the Rivers” was formed.

Working in conjunction with IPFW, a new event is coming to Fort Wayne on June 26th: the IPFW RiverFest.

Its purpose is to raise awareness and appreciation of the rivers and to use them for entertainment and fun. I think this event is an important kick-off as we look for ways to create riverfront development.

Infrastructure improvements aren’t just new pavement and sewer replacements.

I am also working hard to invest in neighborhoods and commercial corridors.

Last year, I launched the Commercial Façade Grant program that transformed $400,000 of City funds for exterior improvements into more than $1 million of private investment in targeted areas. This year I am pledging $260,000 from the City, which once again could result in more than $1 million of private money going into 13 projects. Additionally, I am committed to improvements that make our commercial corridors friendly for visitors and businesses.

Last year we completed improvements on Wells Street, Calhoun and North Anthony.

Starting this spring, Community Development staff will team up with business and property owners along the Pontiac corridor to design future improvements.

Fort Wayne’s neighborhoods are fundamental to this city and I am honored to have many of the Area Partnership chairs, co-chairs and neighborhood presidents from the more than 400 active associations here tonight. I commend you for the work you do daily to make Fort Wayne vibrant and livable.

Our Office of Housing and Neighborhood Services touched more than 200 families through programs that reduced the threat of lead-based paint, provided needed repairs and stabilized and revitalized neighborhoods. To further improve our community, I have directed Public Works to set aside $2.5 million this year to repair residential concrete streets. I am committed to continuing these efforts each year.

Fort Wayne’s Parks system is one of our community’s most beloved assets, which is why I am working hard to find and expand the opportunities for all Fort Wayne residents to use and enjoy our facilities and programs. It is truly a great example of a public-private partnership.

When Taylor Reuille was 11 years old, she realized that most playgrounds don’t accommodate all children; children who use wheelchairs or have visual or hearing impairments, Down Syndrome or autism. She wanted a place where all children can play together. She discovered the Boundless Playground concept, yet there were none in Fort Wayne or even Indiana. Taylor decided to do something about it. She raised more than $10,000 and got in touch with me and the Parks Department about getting this idea off the ground. We found a suitable location at Kreager Park for this $1.3 million project and because of private donations and the support of the Parks Foundation, we are able to get Indiana’s first Boundless Playground under construction this summer. Taylor and her mother Kassandra Booher have joined us tonight and I would like to congratulate Taylor for dreaming big and then being willing to get to work.

The momentum of downtown revitalization must continue especially following the opening of Parkview Field. Cindy and I are already looking forward to another season of baseball this year.

I am particularly proud of the two-way conversion of Calhoun Street. I know it was a challenging project for some, but I am confident we are going to see it pay off by providing infrastructure that encourages store-front development while retaining the key features people like to see such as wide sidewalks, significant trees and outside dining.

Our investments are bringing good news. Sales tax revenue from downtown increased in 2009. Many of our downtown businesses extended hours and noticed an increase in patrons even after the TinCaps’ championship season.

While we celebrate the progress we have made in revitalizing downtown, the City will remain a driving force in fostering private investment in the heart of our city. Working in partnership with the Downtown Improvement District and the Alliance, we’re poised to give our downtown plan an update. I will want to hear from you about how we can make our downtown thriving and interesting every day, year-round.

I am joining leaders from across northeast Indiana in the public, private, educational and non-profit sectors to create a clear vision and economic development strategy for the place we call home. With this inclusive approach, the Regional Partnership’s Vision 2020 will focus on our competitive business climate, collective talent, infrastructure and quality of place. Just like the Downtown Plan, we can’t do this alone. On behalf of the Vision 2020 Coordinating Group, I invite you to take part in next month’s workshops because together we are stronger.

Nearly every day, I see people in Fort Wayne coming together to solve our toughest problems. I think one of the best examples was the All-America City Award Fort Wayne won last year. With the theme of All Together Now, members of the delegation demonstrated collaboration and just plain hard work to improve services for our city’s international population, connect our community through multiuse trails and reach at-risk youth through our Great Kids Make Great Communities program.

Because of these successes, I am working hard to engage you in important community decisions. I have seen time and again that Fort Wayne residents have great ideas and want to be heard.

For instance, your input has been critical in our bike and sidewalk plans. I have also enlisted help from key stakeholders for the Social Service Summits, Tree Commission and the Southtown Advisory Committee.

This year, the area partnership chairs as well as City Council members are serving on a task force to help me as we decide on the specifications of a new garbage and recycling contract. I want all of you to be a part of your City government, and I will make sure you have the opportunity to have your voice heard.

I will also continue to invest in our 311 system as it becomes more and more popular as your one call to City Hall, taking more than 156,000 inquiries last year.

These are unprecedented times. With every challenge comes an opportunity; the opportunity to find a new way to deliver a service, a new way to save money or a new way to work together.

Now is the time to question the status quo to find fresh approaches and new answers to our most vexing problems. Fort Wayne is well positioned going into the future.
We continue to find ways to leverage new and existing resources to help Fort Wayne businesses grow and prosper. We continue to deliver high-quality services every day to our residents. City government is doing more with less to ensure the outstanding quality of life Fort Wayne residents enjoy.
The state of our city is strong.

As I have been thinking about the future of Fort Wayne and how together we are stronger, I keep coming back to one of my favorite quotes from Henry Ford:

“Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.”

I look forward to many successes this year. Thank you.

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