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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.

It's not too late to save the Bowser Pump buildings

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press
Friday, February 24, 2017 05:01 am
Per Indiana Landmarks (Historic Preservation Advocacy), Bowser Pump nuildings (Bowser) are rated outstanding. Indiana State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), “Why is no one going crazy to save these buildings?” Answer:  Location, location, location. Bowser is located on East Creighton Boulevard in southeast Fort Wayne. Our mayor and McMillen Foundation believe the southeast will be better off with another vacant lot and two memorialization signs.

Mayor Henry and the head of the foundation say it’s too late, too late! Yet, for any other neighborhood, too late is after demolition starts. We are not there yet. We found new ownership, but Mayor Henry and McMillen will not consider the same arrangement that other communities use. Why?

Here we are: the mayor’s administration is locked on demolition. The city and McMillen Foundation have refused to stop demolition. Reasons given: We tried 4 1/2 years ago to find a developer; cost too much to develop; it’s blighted; it’s too late. Before the Fort Wayne Police Department moved out in 2011, the plans were for demolition, then transfer land to the YMCA.

YMCA, did you ever consider relocating your corporate office to the Bowser building? The only reason it’s still standing is because the federal government prefers cities not demolish historic structures, especially, in depressed areas where residents are traditionally voiceless, uninformed and marginalized.

Bowser, built in 1917, is eligible for the National Historic Registry and National Significance. S.F. Bowser created the first commercial measuring fuel pump. This entire city should be outraged that this historic site has zero value to this administration.

There were public meetings for the G.E. complex’s future but none for Bowser. The city’s request for proposal package in 2015, (2-3 pages), was sent to three multi-family housing developers with 10 days to respond. This single developer search was a less than a half-hearted effort, although considered a success since “no developer interest”  was validated. Check — proceed with demolition. Development and business economy today are active and growing versus the climate of four or five years ago. That’s when McMillen and city said they tried to save Bowser. Yet with several downtown projects we watched and waited years as developers were announced, quit, replaced, arranged funding, etc.

The southeast community would benefit from adaptive reuse, new life/purpose in old buildings, environmental conserve resources and benefit from historic value. All over Indiana and the U.S. communities are repurposing historic properties. At a recent City Council meeting every argument used to justify The Landing project applied to Bowser: nine buildings, some in poor condition (Bowser building in good condition); it took four years to gain ownership, thought some buildings were vacant for decades (Bowser has been vacant four years); historic buildings; positive transformation; project is about economic development; high risk brings opportunity for a greater return; cost of city services plummet (police calls, etc); economic defibrillator; must have vision; it’s about the long term; development feeds development.

Several local influential folks toured Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine  revitalized area for a live experience of adaptive reuse. OTR, once a depressed, heavy crime activity community, has since made a 180-degree transformation and is growing. Cincinnati city officials cooperated, but it was progressive-minded private citizens and organizations that championed that massive undertaking. A key statement: City officials cooperated. OTR is more aligned with southeast Fort Wayne than The Landing.

Mayor Henry, McMillen Foundation, shame on you for not standing up to do the right thing. Protect Fort Wayne’s extremely limited historic resources. Quality of place applies to the entire city. We have no city cooperation, and they are on the wrong side of right. There is no legitimate, logical or reasonable excuse to decimate this historic property and potential economic development driver.

A few years ago Parkview Field was considered a risk. How did that turn out? People, during your travels, look around, Google, see what other cities are doing in challenged neighborhoods with historic and existing buildings, read the positive effects after revitalization. This is the obvious shot of economic development needed in Southeast Fort Wayne. When it’s gone, that’s the real “too late.”

The CDBG half million dollars (demo contract) would be better spent on skills and job training, which is a direct correlation to reduction in violence. Who is the beneficiary of the scrap value from these buildings? Adaptive reuse of Bowser should be a no-brainer. Too late  is when this obvious opportunity for long-term economic development and growth in southeast Fort Wayne becomes just another vacant lot. This administration does support this area remaining the concentration of low- and very low-income housing. Sadly our Democratic mayor, obviously supported by southeast Fort Wayne since the only two Democratic City Council members represent southeast Fort Wayne, has turned a deaf ear to us on this highly potential economic development generator.

The city administration says Bowser is blighted, the interior is damaged — false. Go to WANE.com to find the article and view gallery pictures taken in December. If this administration does not have the political will to promote economic development of the Bowser buildings that contribute to the character, history and uniqueness of Southeast Fort Wayne, then leave them sit while we do a true developer search. Why would the mayor and McMillen refuse to stop demolition, use strong-arm tactics and refuse to transfer ownership to Indiana Landmarks while a real search for a developer continues? Southeast Fort Wayne deserves same respect and consideration at any other area in Fort Wayne. Let the mayor know if you agree.

Donita Mudd is a resident of Southeast Fort Wayne. 

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