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WBOI Presents: Mayor Tom Henry assesses the State of the City

On this episode of WBOI Presents, we air Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry's 2023 State of the City address.

Henry is in his fourth term at the helm of Indiana's second-largest city, and the Democrat is gearing up for a re-election campaign later this year.

Prior to the 2023 address, the mayor sat down in an exclusive 1-on-1 interview with WBOI's Tony Sandleben, which you can find here.

Below is the transcript of the mayor's address:

Mayor Tom Henry: Family, friends, elected officials, special guests, residents of Fort Wayne, welcome. I'm really encouraged to be joined by all of you today.

This is the first time since 2020 that we've been able to have an audience. And thank you for your continued awareness as we work to keep each of you as safe and healthy as possible. You know, there's no question that 2022 was a very good year here in the city of Fort Wayne.

But 2023 has the potential to be even better.

Fort Wayne truly is a city like no other. Our collective efforts to engage and innovate and perform are making the lasting and meaningful difference.

We see it every day locally and others in the state and fact nationally. They're taking notice too.

Through the work of my outstanding staff and many of you here today, Fort Wayne has become an award winning city. We've been named the third-best run city in the country, the most-affordable city in the U.S., and the best place to live in Indiana.

You know, additional accolades include being the fourth-best minor league sports city in the country, the eighth-best city for new college graduates to start a career and a top emerging housing market.

These noteworthy recognitions from WalletHub, U.S. News and World Report, The Wall Street Journal, and realtor.com helped set Fort Wayne apart as a city moving in the right direction.

That's true. Our city is experiencing population growth as well and more businesses are calling Fort Wayne home.

In fact, in partnership with Greater Fort Wayne, in 2022 alone, we saw private investments, totaling more than $585 million.

Employers throughout Fort Wayne added 1,300 new jobs and nearly 2,700 jobs were retained. Companies like do good foods, Premier Truck, 3BG Supply. Dana and Fort Wayne Metals are examples of organizations starting up here or expanding their existing facilities.

You may have noticed that Fort Wayne has also become a point of destination. Our partners at Visit Fort Wayne led the proactive efforts to bring people and events to our community. We saw a record year in 2022 in hotel occupancy, and over 6.5 million people spent time in our city which led to $741 million in visitor spending to help boost our economy.

So as you can see, we're passionate about having unique quality of life of amenities, providing opportunities for success and being a welcoming community. Our focus in local government is to make Fort Wayne a place that's a little bit better each day for living, working and playing.

There was no question that one of our most important duties is to be good stewards of our taxpayers dollars. I'm proud to say that Fort Wayne's fiscal health is as strong as it's ever been.

And leadership from our comptroller's office and city council. They've produced a progressive, yet balanced budget for this year, and they developed sound financial strategies for years to come. They've done that to meet the needs of our residents, our neighborhoods, and our businesses. We're investing additional resources in areas that you've told us about areas that are important to you. Our public safety offerings, our neighborhoods, our infrastructure, and our parks. In fact, our public safety versions continue to perform at the highest of levels. The work being done by the women and men of our police and fire departments truly are second to none.

Their collective commitment and dedication to protecting all of us each day is evident. Violent crime is down for the second-straight year in Fort Wayne. We saw a 45-percent decrease in homicides.

It was an 83-percent clearance rate in our police officers responded to over get this 140,000 calls for service.

This year, the police department's 67th recruit class will bring staffing levels up to 500 officers and they're using drones as first responders which will now move from the testing phase to the operational phase. And our new river patrol will start season to work on the rivers later this year.

In 2022, our firefighters responded to more than 29,000 calls for service. They averaged a response time of less than five minutes. Construction on their Live Burn Training Center was completed, and training will soon begin. I'm also proud that in 2022, our fire department graduated its most diverse recruit class in nearly 40 years.

This year, the fire department will begin and graduate the 95th recruit class, with a goal of having 370 firefighters on staff by the end of this year. Furthermore, we'll see construction of a new fire station No. 14 at State Boulevard and Reed Road, along with the purchase of two new fire engines.

Incidentally, Animal Care and Control, they're a vital part of our public safety team too.

That department oversaw the care for more than 10,000 animals in 2020. Animal Care and Control groups' Foster Care program that has an amazing corps of volunteers. They're going to be able to soon begin the much-needed expansion to enhance services on their Hillegas Road property.

I'm pretty sure that most of us recognize that neighborhoods continue to be the backbone of our city. While we're fortunate to have strong and vibrant neighborhoods that are growing and thriving.

And one way we can help ensure ongoing progress is by constantly addressing their infrastructure needs. We're going to spend a record $48 million this year to improve streets and roads and sidewalks and alleys and curbs and bridges and streetlights and trails. The Pettit-Rudisill, the Harvester Community, the Fairfield Terrace, Belmont, and Maplewood community neighborhoods will see comprehensive street work repair this year.

Oh, we're gonna we're gonna put new sidewalks along Trier Road and Goeglein Road. And motorists will notice major projects on East State Boulevard, St. Joe Center Road and Cook Road.

I'm especially looking forward to something we've been working on for quite some time. And that's the completion of the Fort Wayne Veterans Memorial Bridge. This new and innovative structure will honor all branches of our military, and be a signature piece in our community for years to come. We hope to cut the ribbon and opened the bridge around Memorial Day.

It's remarkable that since... Well, thank you. Thank you for all who have served. It's remarkable that since 2014, our Public Works division has invested more than $250 million in neighborhoods throughout Fort Wayne.

Our residents and our visitors also depend on our infrastructure to enjoy our trail system. The Fort Wayne area trail network now has 134 miles with 100 of those being inside our city limits. Trail projects this year, we'll feature work on Covington Road, Hannah Street, Liberty Mills Road, Ludwig Road, the Urban Trail downtown, and Frankie Park. And in addition, we'll bid another section of the Puffer Belly trail from Washington Center Road to the intersection of Lima Road and Ice Way.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the positive tournament that we've also experienced with our new garbage and recycling collection provider. But that was that was a tough one. But GFL has done a phenomenal job, which they started last July. Folks, basic services do matter. So I want to thank you and I want to thank our solid waste staff and all the residents of Fort Wayne for working together on this initiative.

As we value the vital work that's visible each day, another important division is providing essential services though, it is city utilities, with much of their work being done underground. In fact, they've received more awards than any other utility in the entire state. Clean, safe, and affordable drinking water along with high-performing sewer and storm water systems, it assists in helping Fort Wayne become a desirable community. Plans call for $135 million to be invested in neighborhood utilities this year.

Glenwood Park, Wildwood Park, East Central, West Central and McKinney Avenue will get new water mains this year. There's going to be storm water projects in the Westmore neighborhood, the Decatur Road area. And sewer work with tunnel connections will help keep combined sewage out of our rivers.

All of these efforts are on top of the $110 million that we spent in 2022.

Certainly, one of the things that makes Fort Wayne a city like no other is our parks and recreation department. We completed over 75 projects in 2022, including the restoration of Foster Park Pavilion Number Three, and the addition of 30 pickleball courts citywide. That's good. There will be another $3 million, though, that we're going to invest in improvements in our parks this year.

We've had various planning and construction works already at Buckner, Franklin, and Schoaff parks, just to name a few. One of my favorite projects the launch yet this year, and that's the Franke Park Renaissance Initiative. We'll embark on the first phase of a master plan to restore and renovate Fort Wayne's largest park. Some of the features will include an additional entrance to the park off of Goshen Avenue and a state-of-the- art year-round pavilion.

Friends, we wouldn't be the city that we are today without the attention that we've given to our downtown, the heart of Fort Wayne. What we've been able to accomplish speaks volumes about our desire to raise the bar and aim high and we are seeing results. One of the most notable examples is what's happening along our Riverfront. I continue to be amazed and encouraged by the ongoing interest and support at several public private partnerships are coming to fruition.

The parking garage is open on the nearly $90 million Riverfront at Promenade Park development, and a number of residents have already moved into the living spaces there.

In addition, office space completion with Swiss Re as their anchor tenant is scheduled for March. Progress will also be evident this year with the construction of the second phase of Riverfront public space that's going to be between Promenade Park and Headwaters park on the south side of the river.

On the north side of the river, plans call for an extension of the elevated tree canopy trail, boat docks for private watercraft, and a universally-accessible bouldering mound and hammock groves and a walking trail.

And the former Schaab building on Harrison Street has been purchased and we're going to see an adaptive reuse adjacent to our riverfront public space project. And More brewing from the Chicago area will be come the first private development on the north side of the North River site with a restaurant and a brewery.

Furthermore, we now own the Pepsi distribution center on Harrison Street for future development along the riverfront.

Now construction on the lofts at headwaters park at Clinton and superior streets is set to begin next month. This development will feature apartments, townhomes in the parking garage, as well as office and retail space. Continuing with our downtown renewal, we have the Ashbury development which will serve as the corporate headquarters for Star financial bank and it's going to open during the fourth quarter of this year. This $43 million, seven-story mixed-use project along Main Street will also have commercial and retail space and, fortunately, more public parking.

And down the street from there is The Pearl. This is a mixed use development led by Surak Enterprises. This $50 million investment will include commercial and event space as well as housing and we anticipate completion with it in late 2024. A billion dollars worth of investments has occurred in our downtown in the last 10 years, and will easily surpass another billion dollars of projects over the next 10 years.

A redevelopment endeavor that's generating national exposure is Electric Works. The West Campus is now open, covering 10 buildings and more than 740,000 square-feet. Highlights there include Fort Wayne Community Schools Amp Lab, the world headquarters of Do It Best, and the Union Street Market, the region's first food hall and public market. And furthermore, there are healthcare offerings, event space, and several other organizations offices. The estimated annual impact of electric works is nearly $400 million and it's going to support nearly 3,000 jobs. We're looking forward to future phases and additional amenities for the community to enjoy as well.

I'm also very enthusiastic about what we're seeing taking place in southeast Fort Wayne. Very soon we'll be will begin construction on a full-service grocery store on Pontiac Street to provide healthy and affordable food options for our residents. Parkview Regional Medical Center and affiliates, they're our community partner on this project and Parkview's vendor partner Sodexo will manage the store operations for us.

Community engagement will be part of the efforts to ensure residents and neighborhoods continue to be included in this unique opportunity. We're projecting that the store will open yet this fall. Starbucks, they opened at South Towne Center last November. And we're proactively looking at additional hospitality offerings southeast as a matter of fact, we have now have we now have a purchase agreement for Culver's Restaurant to go in at South Towne Center.

I give them a commercial but I'm prohibited from doing that.

The first market rate housing development though in southeast Fort Wayne is, in more than 30 years, will also start this year. Roosevelt Reserves near Tillman and Hessen Cassel roads will provide needed housing options for our residents. And on top of that, we recently broke ground on Village Premier. This multi phase $55 million development will transform more than 20 acres of land near South Anthony Boulevard and McKinney Avenue into a vibrant, walkable neighborhood.

There's going to be apartments single family homes, daycare, and the health clinic placemaking and gathering space projects resulted in the restoration of Powell Park and McKinney Commons is now under construction. In a key economic development, ABF freight opened a nearly-$5 million facility on Adam Center Road and because of that they retained 28 jobs.

We're a people-focused community too. We care about one another. And that's clear through the work of our Community Development Division.

The Office of Housing, Neighborhood Services, Neighborhood Planning and Activation and Planning Policy, they all have critical functions that directly relate to Fort Wayne's unprecedented momentum. For instance, we will soon launch a community a plan to increase safe and affordable housing. We want to expand homeless response services and help prevent homelessness before it begins.

Fort Wayne's ongoing success has a lot to do with how our arts and culture scene continues to thrive to the collective work of arts united, the Public Arts Commission and many others help us make opportunities available for everyone. We know as cities compete for people and jobs, how a community values and appreciates their art matters. To that point, the local public and private sectors have recently come together to invest in the modernization and renovation of the iconic Arts United Center.

Now, additional funds are going to be needed, but construction is scheduled to begin this year.

We're also a community committed to building each other up. And that's evident to the nationally recognized Fort Wayne United initiative. It's a program that's geared toward improving the lives of all residents, but with a specific focus on young black men and boys. For example, we're teaching life skills and increasing positive interactions with public safety personnel through real life simulations, and hands-on training, and education, and empowerment. Additionally, Fort Wayne United's expansion includes United Front, which in 2022, celebrated two years of engaging government and business leaders and practical ways of dealing with equity, and inclusion.

We also have the 10 Point Coalition that's been in the Oxford neighborhood for the past four years. The Coalition engages the neighborhood and it promotes peace, and it connects residents with needed services. One of the most tangible outcomes of this initiative has been the decrease in crime and the increase of hope in the Oxford Neighborhood. Trust, respect and demonstrating that we truly care about people of color in Fort Wayne are the cornerstones of Fort Wayne United and its programs.

I'm looking forward to a number of new initiatives in 2023 as well.

In particular, I'm interested in our project to relocate a number of city functions to maximize resources and efficiencies for the Public Works and Public Safety divisions. We've purchased three buildings at the Avenue of Autos on Illinois Road to provide more modern offerings for our fleet services, our traffic operations, and our radio shop.

Because of that, we're saving taxpayers nearly $20 million through this particular plan to purchase those properties and make improvements versus building new structures. I also meet regularly with small and large businesses, to get a feel for how things are going and how our city government can help. As a result of those conversations this fall, our economic development administrator will organize a Business Symposium. This will assist current and future business owners to learn and grow in the legal marketing and financial pieces of having a successful and sustainable business. The symposium is going to be in collaboration with our Summit City Entrepreneurial and Enterprise District.

Another issue that I hear about as well is the need for available, affordable and quality childcare. So my staff will be a part of a coalition-building effort to address this economic development barrier. All of this is in a concentrated effort to gain and retain jobs and have a skilled workforce.

Now, I want Fort Wayne to be hitting on all cylinders. But I continue to be concerned about the physical and mental health of many of our residents. So in the coming weeks and months, I'm going to be convening a group of professionals to try to get a better handle on how we as a community can reach those people where where they currently are and help get them the help that they need.

As we look after one another though, I also want to be mindful of how we care for our environment. My administration is at the forefront of activities to position Fort Wayne as an efficient energy consumer and implementer of programs to reduce our carbon footprint. For instance, the use of renewable solar energy at our water and wastewater treatment facilities is saving our community $725,000 a year. In our city utilities new grease cooperative with participating restaurants will result in grease being collected and also used for energy production. Furthermore, we'll be exploring the use of solar power and conservation efforts at all city-owned buildings. And we're going to continue to convert street lights to LED. We're going to utilize more electric vehicles and expand the electric vehicle charging stations.

And now, I'm going to be asking city council to set aside $250,000 annually to help ensure that our new climate action plan does get implemented in the best way possible for our citizens. It's a venture that's geared towards additional common sense practices that will result in less energy consumption and ultimately save money for our taxpayers.

I'd like to speak to you from the heart for a moment. As many of you know, my wife, Cindy, is battling pancreatic cancer. It was a devastating blow to her, and myself, and our entire family when we received the diagnosis

Cindy is my best friend. She's my wife of 47 years. She's a wonderful mother, grandmother, and truly my rock. So I asked you to please continue praying for her as she wages as a courageous fight against this disease. My wife, Cindy, is with us today. Honey, will you will you please stand? (applause)

You know how much I love you, sweetheart.

Though Cindy and I are experiencing pain and an uncertain time in our personal life. I've never been more optimistic than I am right now about the City of Fort Wayne. The state of our city is strong. But we can't stop this momentum. We've worked too hard to earn our place as a respected leader in the Midwest and nationally.

We must continue to show leadership and be bold to position Fort Wayne for current and future successes. Friends, let's let's continue this journey together. Our time is now let's continue to work together and make this year and beyond the very best it can be. You know, novelist Louis L'Amour once said there will come a time when you think everything is finished. But that will be only the beginning. Today, we've been reminded by Fort Wayne is a city like no other.

God bless you. God bless the city of Fort Wayne.

Thank you

Zach joined 89.1 WBOI as a reporter and local host for All Things Considered, and hosted Morning Edition for the past few years. In 2022, he was promoted to Content Director.
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