Critters, concerts among big draws for these 5 Fort Wayne venues

Visit Fort Wayne estimates that Allen County businesses get 5.8 million visitors. (Photo by Lisa M. Esquivel Long of The News-Sentinel)
The Allen County War Memorial Coliseum draws about 1 million visitors a year who come to athletic events, business exhibitions, concerts and more. (News-Sentinel file photo)
A sea lion is seen at the Fort Wayne Children's Zoo. (News-Sentinel file photo)
Two Ohio men talk over fishing rods at the 2014 National Fishing Lure Collectors Club at Grand Wayne Convention Center. The convention center draws a variety of groups that hold events there including gamers, politicians and tattoo artists. (News-Sentinel file photo)
Parkview Field is not only home to the TinCaps baseball team but also hosts events such as Fort Wayne's Farmer's Market in the cool months, wedding receptions, fundraisers and Fort4Fitness. (Photo courtesy of TinCaps/Jeff Nycz (Mid-South Images)
A group of genealogists research together at the Genealogy Center at the Allen County Public Library during a past Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference. In addition to nearly half a million print volumes, researchers can look for free at databases containing billions of records. (News-Sentinel file photo)

Bo the reticulated python held his head high as he undulated behind the glass of his home Tuesday in the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo’s Indonesian Rain Forest. Perhaps he was looking to do a nose bump to congratulate the zoo on its record attendance year.

The zoo ended its season Sunday with 623,319 visitors, said Sarah McDaniel, the zoo’s content and social media coordinator. However, that’s even before the Wild Zoo Halloween events take place the next three weekends, which will bring costumed children for activities planned for 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday-Sunday and Oct. 20-22 and 27-29. Tickets cost $5 for all ages or $9 for those who also want to go trick-or-treating.

It’s attendance numbers like that that place the zoo among the top-attended places in Fort Wayne.

Allen County gets more than 5.8 million visitors who spend more than $545 million here, said Dan O’Connell of Visit Fort Wayne, the visitors bureau.

All year long visitors are coming to Fort Wayne, whether it’s a TinCaps baseball game or a Komets hockey game, a national show at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum or a business event at the Grand Wayne Convention Center, said Kristen Guthrie, Visit Fort Wayne director of marketing.

If they have an event in town and a couple of extra hours they might do a little browsing at local shops.

“We’re a regional destination for shopping,” she said.

In fact, Glenbrook Square reports it gets 4 million visitors a year, O’Connell said.

Several local companies have created exhibition events and vendor shows, he said, most notably music retailer Sweetwater’s Gearfest with 17 tents on 20 acres or the annual outlet sales by Vera Bradley for its handbags and accessories and Peg Perego’s ride-on toys.

Visit Fort Wayne has a cadre of 34 bloggers who write about the city’s events and places for their niche audiences, such as advice for visits by mothers with children, foodies or sports followers of a specific team, he said.

And not all the visitors are outsiders. Locals headed out for an evening of entertainment count in those attendance numbers, too.

Here’s the top five attractions/locations that Visit Fort Wayne promotes.

1. Allen County War Memorial Coliseum, 4000 Parnell Ave. Estimated: 1 million-plus visitors

Whether it’s a concert, consumer show or NCAA event, the coliseum has room for them all. In a two-week span in January, the coliseum’s calendar includes the Mat Mayhem Wrestling Championships, Fort Wayne MLK Volleyball Challenge, Fort Wayne Farm Show, Mad Ants basketball, Komets hockey and a bridal show.

“We’re an arena,” said Randy Brown, coliseum general manager. “We’re a meeting place. We wear a lot of hats.”

Last year, the coliseum held 1,600 events. With 1 million square feet, 15-20 events could be going on at the same time, Brown said. Based on license plate surveys, about 60 percent of visitors are from Allen County.

Coliseum visitors had a $103 million impact on the local economy last year, Brown said.

“It really amounts to jobs for our friends and neighbors,” he said. Those visitors stop for gasoline and meals.

To draw concerts, Brown attends marketing meetings and the coliseum has a representative in Los Angeles for bookings. Its main competition is Dayton and Toledo, Ohio, and Grand Rapids, Mich.

For athletics, it’s known as the home of the Komets, now in their 66th season. It will also be host to the NCAA Division III men’s basketball championship 2019-22.

Its longest-running consumer show is the Northeastern Indiana Kennel Club’s dog show, which moved to the coliseum in 1953. The club will host the Old Fort Cluster dog show there 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Nov. 2-5. Admission is free. The coliseum charges $5 for parking.

Music acts draw fans from a 250-mile radius, from the fringe of Indianapolis to western Ohio. For consumer shows it serves as the landlord and rents space to those holding gun-and-knife or boat shows.

2. Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, 3411 Sherman Blvd. Record: 623,319 visitors so far this year

The zoo’s babies and the good weather during the summer months helped it beat its previous record attendance of 618,000 from two years ago, McDaniel said. This season visitors got their first look at the new male African lion, Bahati, now 3 years old, who came from the Racine, Wis., zoo. He replaced the popular Bill, who ruled the pride since 2009. Bill died in April 2016 three months shy of his 10th birthday after being diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer.

Other newbies this year were a pair of Tasmanian devils, brothers Milton and Mischief, on loan from the Australian government, and Bam Bam, a male sitatunga, a kind of antelope native to marshy areas of central Africa.

Another recent addition was Stingray Bay, part of a $7 million renovation of its Australian Adventure area. The zoo has opened African, Australian and Indonesian exhibit areas in the years since it opened in 1965. It plans changes to Monkey Island and a new otter exhibit through its $6.4 million Journey to the Heart of the Zoo fundraising campaign, which will pay for the new projects as well as work completed last winter, such as improvements to Mother Goose Pond, paths from the gift shop to the train station and a new water line system.

While this was the second year for Zoo Comes Alive After 5, when the zoo remained open until 7 p.m. so visitors could come after regular work hours, more visitors might have heard about it this year, McDaniel said.

In addition to locals, the zoo attracts visitors from Indianapolis and South Bend as well as from Michigan.

3. Parkview Field, 1301 Ewing St. Estimated: 561,000 visitors

Ask about numbers to Mike Nutter, president of president Fort Wayne TinCaps Baseball, and he’s got the stats. This season the TinCaps set a new attendance record of 419,128. However, baseball games aren’t the only events at Parkview Field. It serves as the start and finish lines for Fort4Fitness, which 10 years ago began with a half-marathon and other run/walk events and now has a full marathon. It also is the site for concerts, wedding receptions, Fort Wayne’s Farmer’s Market in the cooler months, Downtown Rotary Club’s 50 meetings a year and charity events. Nutting expects about 145,000 more visitors will come to events at Parkview Field this year.

4. Grand Wayne Convention Center, 120 W. Jefferson Blvd. Estimated: 200,000 visitors

With large national conventions and meetings each year, the convention center sees tattoo artists, comic book enthusiasts, and many more who gather to share about their hobbies or businesses.

It has seen a fair share of politics in recent years. In 2008 former President Clinton stopped by to drum up support for his wife, Hillary, in the Democratic campaign. That same year, future first lady Michelle Obama drew a crowd to stump for her husband, then known as Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.

With a $42 million renovation and expansion completed in 2005, it now has 225,000 square feet.

Saturday and Sunday the public is invited to the Grand Wayne for Brickworld, 32,000 square feet of creations built from LEGO bricks. Cost is $11 for general admission, $8 for military members and first responders with an ID, and free for ages 3 and under.

Business conferences, the Allen County SPCA Growl at the Moon and Harrison College’s graduation ceremony are also being held there this month.

5. Allen County Public Library’s Genealogy Center. Estimated 65,000 visitors

Curt B. Witcher, Genealogy Center manager, believes the center draws two types of people: those who come to do genealogy research, and their drivers. So the center works with Visit Fort Wayne to promote plenty of sites in Fort Wayne while the genealogy researcher peruses for free online databases, 450,000 printed volumes and 660,000 microfilms and microfiche of family history.

“It’s really the best of times” for doing research, Witcher said.

Visitors can use for free databases that would cost an individual $1,000. With My Heritage and the worldwide edition of Ancestry.com, users can look through 30 billion records to find their German, Italian and Swedish ancestors. Another one is www.familysearch.org through the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that has 8 billion searchable records, including many images of church and civil record books. The center staff will give free consultations of a half-hour or hour to get visitors going in the right direction.

“It could be a power hour,” said Witcher, who started at the library 39 years ago as a shelver and has been manager for 30 years. The staff has two others who also have 30-plus years of experience.

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