Monday, March 21, 2016

An arena for real

OK. So maybe Warrant really is still out there, looking for a commodious place to jam.

All I know is the people looking into the advisability/feasibility of a downtown arena in Fort Wayne are back, and they're saying heck, yes, it's a good idea. So it looks like the city's going to get a downtown arena, which will cost someone in the neighborhood of $63 million.

No, of course it's not necessary. But as the Blob opined 10 months ago (see above), there are a lot of things you can decide aren't necessary if your first and only instinct is to wrap your fist around every nickel until it leaves a permanent imprint in your palm. And of course there are any number of people in the Fort (Motto: "If It Was Good Enough For Old Sam Hanna And The Boys, It's Good Enough For Me") whose first and only instinct is to do just that.

And yet ... there is what is necessary, and there is what makes your community a better place. And the Blob has decided a downtown arena will demonstrably do the latter.

It comes to this conclusion despite a healthy amount of initial skepticism (again, see above), and after a night on the town a few weeks back. My wife and I decided to switch it up one weekend and eat at one of the many downtown restaurants that have sprung up in the past decade or so, and what we discovered is that we weren't the only ones. Even without the hook of a TinCaps game in Parkview Field  -- another enterprise initially looked at askance by the Good Enough crowd -- there were actual live human beings downtown. Like, a lot of them, crowding into Toscani's and J.K. O'Donnell's and the Hoppy Gnome and Club Soda, and Wine Down and O'Reilly's in The Harrison. And likely several other places I'm overlooking.

In short, it felt like an actual Saturday night in an actual city. And for those of us who remember when the sidewalks rolled up with an almost audible snap and the only things you heard downtown after 6 p.m. were crickets, it was a revelation.

What we've got going on now is, without much exaggeration, a genuine renaissance, begun by the once fiercely debated ballpark and proceeding apace. And here's what I know about renaissances: They don't respond well to standing pat.

Which is why I've come around on the downtown arena idea. If nothing else, it will keep the downtown renaissance, um, renaissance-ing. It will feed it the required forward motion to sustain its momentum.

Do I still have doubts how they'll fill the place year-round? Yes, I do. Do I worry it will steal business from the Coliseum and the Embassy and Foellinger Theater? To be sure. But these are issues that every growing community faces at one time or another. And I suspect we'll discover what others have discovered: That adding another venue only attracts more business for everyone else in the long run.

I could be wrong. It wouldn't be the first time. But I don't think I am.

What I do think is the prospect of the Mad Ants moving downtown to the new arena seems far more likely than I initially thought it would be. And that the possibility of Indiana Tech or Saint Francis -- two stellar NAIA basketball programs -- playing a handful of games downtown might be greater than I initially suspected. And that there will be less competition for business between the Coliseum and a venue half its size than many of us believe.

Again, I could be wrong. But I don't think I am.

What I do know is this: Saturday night out on the town these days feels like Saturday night out on a real town. And I like that feeling.   

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