Friday, February 17, 2017

Value city

So I see the proposed Fort Wayne downtown arena is in the news again, mainly because the proposed price tag has zoomed from $65 million to $105 million, which of course has everyone in a dither because that's what people get in a dither about in Fort Wayne.

(Whose civic motto, I once joked, should be "It's Good Enough."  And perhaps still should be, given the usual taxpayer griping over the Proposed Arena)

Anyway ... the question here is not whether or not $105 million is too much to pay for a downtown arena. Or whether or not the city needs a downtown arena. Or whether or not it specifically needs a downtown arena that seats north of 6,000 people.

This is because, as with Parkview Field a decade ago, this isn't really about need. Strictly speaking, there are any number of things we don't, or haven't in the past, needed: Parkview Field, the Children's Zoo, a state-of-the-art library, the Rivergreenway, on and on. None of those were about need. They were simply the things a community does to make itself a community worth the name. And they have all enhanced the quality of life in this city immeasurably -- and therefore enhanced its value for businesses and prospective citizens.

So the real question here is this: Will the value of a downtown arena match its price tag?

The Blob's answer: Who knows?

What I do know is that what a 6,000-plus arena adds to downtown is far less clear than what a downtown ballpark adds. Hop in the Wayback Machine and go back to the planning stages of Parkview Field, and you heard a lot of the same why-do-we-need-this caterwauling we're hearing now about the Proposed Arena. Yet the crabbing was largely confined to the usual suspects, because there were so many examples out there of similar ventures revitalizing moribund downtowns.

As Parkview Field has undeniably done.  A decade later, it is the jewel of the city (or at least one of them), feted as one of the top venues of its kind in the nation. And all of the caterwauling about it just sounds silly now.

And the Proposed Arena?

Maybe all the caterwauling about it will one day sound just as silly. But there's no denying that the dynamic is different this time. The ballpark had an anchor tenant -- the Wizards-TinCaps-to-be -- before the first spadeful of earth was turned. The Proposed Arena has no such condition. The Mad Ants are presumed to be the anchor tenant, but the Indiana Pacers to date have made no commitment to that. And even if it were so, why a team that barely draws 2,000 a night needs a building with a capacity three times that is a legitimate question.

The answer, according to those who unveiled the plans yesterday,  is that the arena would be a multi-purpose facility, capable of attracting musical acts too small for the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum and yet too big for the Embassy or Foellinger Theater. There was also much talk about other athletic attractions, too.

(One of them being indoor football. Given that indoor football has failed at least four times in Fort Wayne already, this seems an especially fanciful notion)

In any case, it all seemed far more speculative than the ballpark talk a decade ago. Which means any skepticism about it seems far more legitimate.

Not to say far more rational.

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