From pick-up problems with a new trash collector, crime, major job announcements and a glimpse of what’s tocome next year, ABC21 sat down with Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry for a look back at 2018.
“It was like the perfect storm,” said Henry, when we asked him about perhaps the city’s most defining story of 2018 – woes over its switch to Red River Waste Solutions. “Everything that could’ve gone wrong, went wrong.”
In hindsight, the mayor says a January winter storm, driver shortages and new drivers unfamiliar with a complex map system all made for a rough transition. That would be an understatement.
The city’s new contract started Jan. 1, 2018 – and not long after, thousands of calls from residents frustrated with their trash service (or lack thereof) started flooding the city’s 311 call center.
Scenes of trash cans overflowing with uncollected waste became common place. For months, residents called and sent messages to ABC21, saying their trash hadn’t been collected in days… even weeks.
“We just leave our trash can out because we never know when it’s going to get picked up,” said Fort Wayne resident Megan Clarke as late as last month.
“It was really a trying time for the community and for the company,” said Henry. “We were fining them hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
Despite calls from the public, and from city council, for the city to end it’s contract. The mayor stood by Red River.
Last month the city implemented an overhauled trash route – one Henry feels will turn around Red River’s poor performance.
“We check with council members,” said Henry. “We check with our 311 call centers and have received nothing but positivity, so I think we’re going to be okay.””
As for crime, Henry says he can work with police to control drug violence, guns and gangs, but a climb this past year in the number of people killed at the hands of a loved one proves to be a more puzzling problem.
“The uptick in domestic homicides,” says Henry. “That’s a tough one to deal with. Unfortunately there’s not a lot we can do about that.”
The mayor hopes new investments south of downtown will have a domino effect and reinvigorate what some call an overlooked part of the city.
A project Henry feels will help lead the way? The renovation of the Clyde Theatre and Sweetwater CEO Chuck Surack’s investment in the Quimby Village.
This is a big year for the Fort Wayne-based music retail giant. In October, Sweetwater announced a massive headquarter expansion, bringing in 1,000 new jobs.
“It’s not just new businesses coming to town,” says Henry. “But those already growing what’s already here.”
Looking ahead, the new Hampton Inn & Suites by Hilton and a new boutique hotel are expected to wrap up construction by next year – adding to downtown Fort Wayne’s skyline.
“The most exciting initiative is riverfront,” says Henry. “We’ll be cutting the ribbon on June the 21st.”
Henry says his primary goal to help the Summit City keep growing is turning the three rivers into an asset that attracts families and companies alike for generations to come.
“We need to continue on working on making our city as attractive as possible,” says Henry.
Another major project still moving forward? Electric Works – the renovation of the abandoned General Electric campus just south of downtown.
Developers demanded $65 million in public funds. After a public squabble between the city, the developers and city council played out for weeks, the city ultimately reached an agreement with developers – promising $62 million. The remaining $3 million was unanimously approved by the Allen County Board of Commissioners earlier this year. However, those public funds are contingent on certain conditions the developers must meet by June 2019.
Last month, the capital improvement board also approved $45 million in bonds – lifting the last significant road block for the project to move forward.
Henry is nearing the end of this third term. Next November, Henry plans to run for his fourth term. He will face a challenge from a Republican from the winner of a primary race between City Councilman Dr. John Crawford and businessman Tim Smith.