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Mayor Henry outlines plan for $75 million 'Legacy Fort Wayne' fund

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Thursday, November 1, 2012 - 10:37 am

Mayor Tom Henry's plan for the city's $75 million “Legacy” fund calls for $30 million to be set aside for the long-term, while millions more could go toward a list of special projects.

For the first time, Henry publicly discussed his plans for the money Tuesday in a news conference and presentation to City Council. Under the mayor's plan, the city would use up to $7 million of the money in the next two years for projects focused on downtown, riverfront and youth development.

“The Legacy process has allowed us to look to the future, to think long-term, to be bold,” Henry said in prepared remarks.

The city can already access about $48 million of the total fund – created from Indiana Michigan Power's lease and purchase of the old City Light utility – with $30 million to be saved and the other $18 million available for projects. Another $28 million will come over the next 12 years in annual payments from I&M.

As The News-Sentinel first reported in July, some of Henry's recommendations for the money include a study on riverfront development, a grant fund to help lure colleges downtown and a multimillion-dollar renovation of the former McMillen Ice Arena into a full community center.

John Urbahns, the mayor's director of community development, said the $500,000 riverfront study would likely be among the first projects and could start by the end of the year.

“We talk a lot about riverfront development,” Urbahns said. “One of the things we've never done is a full and complete study of the rivers.”

Any spending from the Legacy funds will likely require approval by both the mayor and a 6-3 “super majority” of council. An ordinance setting ground rules for accessing the funds is expected to come before council Tuesday.

The Legacy money has already dominated recent council discussions, with some Republicans arguing that the funds should go toward property tax relief or pressing needs such as street repairs.

But council – even members who disagree with Henry's philosophy on the money – gave the mayor's ideas a warm reception Tuesday.

“Every one of the projects is wonderful…regardless of how someone thinks the funds should be spent,” said Councilman Russ Jehl, R-2nd.

Henry's ideas also include a downtown “opportunity fund” that could help businesses acquire property and locate downtown; a $200,000 study on how to increase youth sports activity in Fort Wayne; and improvements to trails and downtown “gateways.”

Once council approves basic guidelines for the Legacy money, the mayor and council will start considering projects on an individual basis.