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New downtown Fort Wayne arena pitched

Memorial Coliseum, Fort Wayne

The revitalization of downtown Fort Wayne could continue with construction of a new $63-million arena that would complement existing offerings, including the Grand Wayne Center, Memorial Coliseum and other venues.

That’s the premise of a new midsized downtown Fort Wayne arena being pitched by Greater Fort Wayne, the local business-advocacy group. Their vision is for a 5,000-seat arena to handle events too large for the Grand Wayne Center and too small for the Memorial Coliseum. (The ECHL’s Fort Wayne Komets would continue to fill the Coliseum; the NBA D-League’s Mad Ants may be better off at the smaller downtown arena.) It would be built on the edge of downtown near the Grand Wayne Center and Parkview Field — an area that’s seen lots of construction in recent years. (Which is true of downtown Fort Wayne as a whole: we attended a Fort Wayne TinCaps game last fall and saw plenty of construction cranes dotting the downtown skyline.)

However, there is a danger in building a new downtown Fort Wayne arena while also keeping Allen County War Memorial Coliseum open: the two venues are competing with each other as well as venues in other cities. Memorial Coliseum is large, seating some 13,000 for basketball and more for concerts, while the adjoining Exposition Center features 108,000 square feet of trade-show space. It was last renovated in 2013.

And no one is arguing Memorial Coliseum should go away; a new downtown arena would host smaller events, like NBA D-League action. From the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel:

There does, however, seem to be a realization that a new arena would best be managed by a new authority that would also include other public venues that could be affected — positively or negatively — by the new kid on the block. Just such a multi-facility authority was among the options presented by Hunden Strategic Partners in its study released last year, and is said to be the model preferred by the committee.

Because the Memorial Coliseum is owned by Allen County and the Grand Wayne Center is operated by the Fort Wayne-Allen County Convention and Tourism Authority, creation of an umbrella management structure would require agreement among entities that have had complete control of their own turf. Negotiations, in fact, are now underway. And if the arena is in fact built, creation of an authority is critical because it would mitigate, as much as possible, one of the most common and legitimate objections to the project: that it would, at least in the short term, draw business from the coliseum, Grand Wayne, Embassy Theatre and other existing venues.

“As I’ve said all along, if this (arena) is so important to downtown, we’re on board so long as there’s a safety net (for the coliseum),” General Manager Randy Brown said. Planning Committee Chairman Chuck Surack has said some form of new revenue stream — perhaps an increase in local income taxes — is being considered to compensate not only for the arena’s expected initial losses but also for lost revenue at the Grand Wayne and the coliseum, which had an operating surplus of less than $36,000 in 2015.

Some decisions on the proposed arena could come in coming days.

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