While acknowledging that 2013 had been a “difficult year for violence in our community,” Mayor Tom Henry told hundreds of guests Wednesday at the Grand Wayne Center that “remarkable” things are happening in Fort Wayne.
In a “state of the city” speech laced with now-familiar accomplishments and ambitions – continued downtown investment, proposed riverfront improvements – Henry said last year's 45 record number of homicides has prompted new Chief Garry Hamilton to create a gang and violent crime unit within the Fort Wayne Police Department.
In his prepared remarks, Henry said the unit will “work to reduce criminal gang activity, investigate crimes and gather intelligence on known and suspected gang members . . . We must be a city where residents and businesses feel safe . . . Now more than ever, we're focused on reversing that trend (of violent crime).”
Officials have said last year's spike in violence was due largely to gangs and drugs.
Overall, the speech offered few new initiatives, focusing instead on past accomplishments. Henry called 2013 a banner year for economic development, with 29 companies expanding and four new businesses coming to Fort Wayne. He touted the new $71 million downtown project that will include a new headquarters for Ash Brokerage, apartments, condominiums and townhouses, and praised the bipartisan work that led to adoption of a 2014 city budget that included a tax increase but will also allow the hiring of additional police officers and firefighters and a larger-than-usual amount of street improvements.
“We're investing $20 million in our neighborhoods. There will be at least 50 miles of paving and 10 miles of concrete reconstruction. We'll be creating over 300 construction jobs,” Henry said. Parks will also receive an additional $3 million in annual maintenance.
Henry called city employees' response to difficult winter weather conditions “magnificent” and praised crews for “working around the clock to keep our streets plowed, salted and safe.”
Work continues on a plan funded with Legacy dollars to develop Fort Wayne's riverbanks. The $71 million fund was created through the sale of the old City Light utility, and Henry stressed the “need to identify opportunities on our riverfronts . . . our rivers must be an asset, and I truly believe ideas are limitless.”
Henry also touted the city's growing youth-sports programs and said a study on how best to maximize those opportunities will be released soon.
But if his speech focused on what government has done, it also addressed what individuals can and should do.
“For us to continue Fort Wayne's positive momentum, we must work together,” he concluded. “Look for opportunities to volunteer, spend time mentoring a child, help a neighbor . . . Use your time, talent and treasure to make a difference . . . Join me in investing in our future.”