KEVIN LEININGER: Believe it or not, parking crunch in downtown Fort Wayne is a good thing

The city plans to add two floors to its Civic Center Parking Garage and wants the Capital Improvement Board's help for the $6 million project. (File photo by Kevin Leininger of The News-Sentinel.com)
Bart Shaw
Greg Leatherman
Kevin Leininger

It’s a great problem to have, but a problem nevertheless: The recent arrival of about 400 SIRVA jobs has created a daytime parking challenge in downtown Fort Wayne.

“It’s a concern, but limited to business hours Monday through Friday. It’s 90 to 95 percent manageable,” said Grand Wayne Convention Center Executive Director Bart Shaw, who recently had to shuttle guests to the facility at least in part because of the moving company’s relocation from U.S. 30 East to the 27-story Indiana Michigan Power Center. To help entice those jobs downtown, the city offered SIRVA a deal in its 900-space Civic Center parking garage, which is attached by walkway to the I&M building, Hilton Hotel and the Grand Wayne.

The Grand Wayne and nearby Embassy Theatre do most of their business on weekends and during the evening, when most SIRVA employees aren’t working. Local events at the Grand Wayne are especially vulnerable to a parking shortage because some garage space is reserved for the hotels used by out-of-town guests, and Shaw said there are at least “one or two events a month we’re worried about.” That’s enough to get the attention of city officials who are looking at both short- and long-term solutions that could include the expansion of the Civic Center garage.

Although Community Development Director Greg Leatherman expects parking garages now in the planning stages to alleviate the daytime shortage, he acknowledged a solution to current challenges can’t wait. So the city is hoping to free up some unused spaces reserved for I&M and is scouring the downtown area for private parking lots that might be available for daytime use. Parking for government employees may also be shifted to provide more-convenient spaces for visitors.

The challenge is especially acute now, when cold and snow can make even a short walk unpleasant. Although the parking garage at the Courtyards by Marriott hotel is connected to the Grand Wayne by a series of walkways, other parking options are not. And although the 1,077-space Skyline Garage at the Ash Brokerage headquarters is only a block or two away and has excess capacity now, that could change when the attached Skyline Tower residential project opens later this year.

As for those parking garages that are on the drawing board, the 1,000-space facility that will be part of the recently announced $61.7 million “Riverview” mixed-use project is years and blocks away. Owners of the Fifth Third Metro Center at 202 W. Berry St. have talked about building a 400-space garage and a garage is expected to be included should Ruoff Home Mortgage build a new $37 million headquarters at Jefferson Boulevard and Ewing Street, but neither project has been confirmed or would be close enough to provide enclosed access to the Grand Wayne.

Downtown Fort Wayne, clearly, is in the midst of a renaissance that will continue to attract jobs and enhance the city’s image as a convention and tourism site. That will only increase the need for more parking, especially close to the Grand Wayne, and as Leatherman noted the recent increase in on-street parking meter rates should also induce more drivers to use the garages.

Ironically, the suddenly crowded Civic Center garage may hold the key to a long-term solution.

Built in two phases about 30 years ago, the southern half of the structure at 100 E. Washington Blvd. was designed to accommodate two additional floors — a project that in theory would be less costly than starting from scratch and would provide the enclosed access the Grand Wayne and Embassy want.

How much that would cost and whether it should happen at all could be determined by a forthcoming comprehensive study of the downtown area’s parking needs, Leatherman said. But if you’re ever downtown during the day and can’t find a place to put your car, remember: When downtown was a ghost town, there were plenty of places to park.

Times have changed, and a little temporary inconvenience is not too high a price to pay.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at kleininger@news-sentinel.com or call him at 461-8355.

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