Fort Wayne City Council will be asked Dec. 14 to consider voting to allow $3 million in Fort Wayne Legacy Funds to be used for downtown's Louis Kahn-designed performing arts center's planned upgrades.

To promote the need for a public-private partnership to grow arts and culture, including the $30 million in upgrades needed to solve mobility issues and improve technology to Arts United Center state legislators, Mayor Tom Henry, and regional economic development representatives met Dec. 9 to promote the project.

Those who attended, said Susan Mendenhall, president at Arts United of Greater Fort Wayne, know "that arts and culture are vital to our ability in Northeast Indiana to build our economy, to attract and retain talent and to bring businesses and jobs to Fort Wayne and Northeast Indiana."

She called the Arts United Center the "flagship" of the campus, which serves 17 resident nonprofit arts groups. Arts United Center is home to performances by the Fort Wayne Ballet, Fort Wayne Civic Theatre and Fort Wayne Youtheatre. Next door is the Fort Wayne Museum of Art and across the street is the Auer Center for Arts and Culture.

They serve 530,000 patrons a year, not just inside their buildings, but also at places that include schools and libraries. The arts campus brings in $28.6 million each year to the economy. Minus admissions costs, patrons spend on average $38.47 each for hotels, food and other things.

Kahn, an internationally renowned architect, attended its grand opening in 1973 before dying about six months later. He put in numerous arches, a grand staircase, and seating without a center aisle so performers doing their most important work at center stage wouldn't be performing to an empty space in the audience. While some seats near the front have been removed to accommodate wheelchairs and plans call for more wheelchair seating the back, the grand staircase to get to the performance area is a problem for those with mobility issues. A drop-off area would be designed on the west side of the building to create easier access. And behind the scenes, as many as six technicians may have to squeeze into tight spaces to manually control the weighted scenery system with performers below. Upgrades would call for a mechanized system that also would improve safety for performers.

Arts United board members previously said they plan to raise half each of the needed funding from public and private sources.

If funding is in place, Arts United aims to start construction on the expected year-long project in 2024.

To be considered for Legacy Funds, a project must be transformational, leverage significant private investment and be in one of the priority areas of downtown/riverfront, economic development and youth/prep sports.

Fort Wayne City Councilman Tom Freistroffer, at large, said the Legacy committee has approved use of the funds, which requires approval of six of the nine members of City Council. The fund receives about $3 million in interest, Freistroffer said.

Arts United has already secured $3 million in Allen County food and beverage tax money from the Capital Improvement Board.

Arts United is also working the county on funding the project, according to Dan Ross, vice president of community development for Arts United.

The nearly 50-year-old Arts United Center, which Mendenhall called an “internationally significant work of art,” is in need of updating from its 1970s technology to serve local arts groups.

"We are moving toward a sense of value for what arts and culture brings for our everyday lives, for our economy, for the cultural-social fabric of our community, " she said Dec. 9.

In June, the Indiana Arts Commission recognized Arts Campus Fort Wayne as one of 12 Statewide Cultural Districts, opening paths to marketing and promotional assistance.

Arts United held meetings to get public input on the campus, and heard overwhelmingly that Arts United needs to be renovated, Mendenhall previously said.
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