4 reasons to not bust a gaping hole into a historic theater

Embassy TheatreForget about building a downtown aquarium. Fort Wayne wants to build a suspended, over-the-street, glass-boxed, out-of-town-visitorium.

In an effort to prevent convention goers from ever having to walk on an actual sidewalk, the folks building Harrison Square downtown want to carve a hole into the west side of the historic Embassy Theatre (actually, that side of the building contains the old Indiana Hotel) and build a pedestrian walkway across a two-lane street.

In today’s News-Sentinel, columnist Kevin Leininger applauds the plan:

… the city is considering several incentives in exchange for the Embassy’s willingness to give up most of its third floor for a walkway that would allow visitors to travel indoors from the new hotel at Harrison Street and Jefferson Boulevard, across Harrison though the Indiana Hotel, to the Grand Wayne Convention Center — which is linked to the Embassy by another walkway over Jefferson.

Before we rent the reciprocating saws, let’s consider some possible drawbacks to busting a hole in the side of the Embassy:

  • You’d be busting a hole in the side of the Embassy. You can’t undo this kind of destruction. Will future generations wonder what kinds of dopes we were for saving such a beautiful structure from destruction, only to ram a makeshift shiv into its side? While we’re at it, should we build a walkway from the Lincoln Tower to the courthouse so the lawyers won’t get wet in the rain?
  • You wouldn’t really be helping visitors that much. As visitors walk over two-lane Harrison Street, they’ll be kicking themselves as they realize it would have been faster for them just to use the crosswalk.
  • You’d be using the proximity of the historic Embassy for your own downtown goals. The Embassy doesn’t get any real boost for becoming a conventioneers’ bypass — except for some cash, of course.
  • You’d be telling visitors that there’s nothing interesting about a Fort Wayne sidewalk. Aren’t there going to be shops along Jefferson Boulevard as a part of Harrison Square? Wouldn’t we like visitors to actually walk past them?

The pressure on the Embassy board is tremendous. Kevin again:

If (Embassy) board members zealously protect every last inch of the historic building’s interior and brick-and-terra cotta facade, they risk jeopardizing a project that could bring hundreds of thousands of people downtown every year — potentially benefiting both the theater and prospects for the Indiana Hotel’s redevelopment.

Putting the weight of Harrison Square on a walkway through a historic building is suspicious and unfair. People won’t come to Fort Wayne if they have to cross a street? Don’t people have to cross streets in other, more successful downtowns? Doesn’t the success of our own outdoor Jefferson Pointe prove that people enjoy walking and shopping outside?

Once the concrete cutters touch the side of the Embassy, we can never go back. We must consider some alternatives before we mar the face of downtown’s most precious jewel.

NOTE: Photo credit: The News-Sentinel, crudely Photoshopped by Jon. (Apologies for forgetting this before.)

7 Comments

  1. My belief and I posted on my blog that this entire walkway is at the request of The Embassy. They have everything to gain with the walkway.

    Hardball is owned by some major players in the building area. Check out their web site. Then think about THE CLAIM that they would wait until 11:59 to say they wanted a walkway.

    They have no interest in paying one cent for something they see providing them little gain in the financial sense.

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  2. In reference to Mr. Taxpayer’s comment, I am not sure what the Embassy has to gain from the walkway. The interior of the hotel is far from being functional space for offices or retail that would benefit from a walkway. I agree that it will keep people from using the sidewalk. Why create a secondary “sidewalk” when we have trouble getting people to use the existing one?

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  3. The visitorium is a bad idea. It is contrary to the goal of creating vitality on the street. It compromises (no room for rationalizing here) a downtown asset in order to encourage visitors to avoid contributing to the street vitality we so desperately need. It interfers with the prospect that the Indiana Hotel could be redevelopped to it’s maximum potential by accepting that the best we can hope for is to convert part of the third floor into a sunglass hut and coffee kiosk.
    Most importantly, it’s a bad idea because it’s not necessary for success of the hotel.

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  4. Please keep in mind that the hotel has 4 additional floors for potential use. Also, in regard to the comment about Jefferson Pointe: It’s a great “mall” – in the summer. In the winter it is rediculously cold, what with the wind tunnel it becomes and it loses 25% of it’s parking to snow piles. It is very difficult to find parking near the shops you want to patronize.

    The issue is not that Harrison Square is trying to keep people off the sidewalks, it’s about keeping people safe and making it convenient to visit the Embassy Theatre. I cross downtown streets many times per week and I am ever thankful for the walkways that have been established. The only purpose for the walkway is for the benefit of the Embassy Theatre, Grand Wayne, and Hilton patrons. Obviously, if people want to visit the shops on Jefferson, they wouldn’t use the walkway for that purpose. Plus, the shops really would only be a draw for the downtown emlpoyees and people staying in nearby hotels. I find it hard to believe that anyone expects them to be a tourist destination.

    As for the quote”The Embassy doesn’t get any real boost for becoming a conventioneers’ bypass — except for some cash, of course,” what other benefit did you expect? The Embassy needs money to continue to run each day. The walkway will not destroy the Embassy or it’s historical nature. Also, the walkway will not be where the over-dramatized picture shows. It will go just above the opening after the first set of windows. It will not even disturb the terra cotta.

    I personally do not understand the resistance. From everything I have read in the papers, the Embassy will be gaining much more than extra cash flow.

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  5. I think it is a great way to “connect” both apposing hotels. If you look at the downtown area of Indianapolis the hotels close to the convention center are connected via skyways. I think it will be a great boost for the venues at the Embassy. Just imagine getting tickets to a musical say like Phantom of the Opera…and then staying at the hotel and then walking over while its sleeting outside but hey we have a skyway to walk over instead. Yeah it sounds good to me.

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