The Landing has been a central player in downtown development since the early 1800s.
It was once the main “landing” place downtown along the Wabash Erie Canal, home to historic events, like Thomas Edison’s brief stint in Fort Wayne as a telegraph operator for the Wabash Railroad Company.
Over the past several years, the city has been slowly acquiring properties along Columbia Street to turn the area back into a thriving center of activity. If all goes well, the project could begin next summer, transforming today’s empty windows (and a new building) into residential, office and retail spaces.
But, as always, there’s more to the story than the basics of construction.
If you ask Eric Doden of Greater Fort Wayne Inc. the one thing he’d like to tell young professionals about The Landing, it’s this: We need you to start businesses.
It’s a blunt ask—risks and failures aside. Doden wants to see young people, or people of all ages, really, starting local businesses because that’s what city leaders want The Landing to be about.
Instead of housing national chains, they want it to be home to thriving local companies that are as local as possible.
For instance, the only business that has been offered a surefire spot on The Landing so far is Bravas, city leaders announced last month.
That’s because Bravas was started by Bo Gonzalez, who is from Fort Wayne, grew a hot dog kart into one of the best-known food trucks downtown, launched an innovative burger joint on an up-and-coming side of town, hires local and sources his ingredients from local farms, too.
It’s a homegrown success story, through and through.
So if you’re a living here, and if you have an idea to start a business, Doden says go for it. He’s speaking from experience, having been part of successful and unsuccessful business ventures in the past, and he isn’t shy about telling people to pursue startups because he says his failures actually taught him more than his successes.
“People often forget that failure helps lead to your success,” Doden said.
It’s an empowering concept—very Thomas Edison, who notoriously failed 1,000 times before inventing the light bulb.
And when I muse on the inspiring side of failure, I think about how cool The Landing is going to be, and I imagine all of my own half-baked ambitions coming to life there.
But then the idea of failure becomes real again, and the starry-eyed excitement fizzles out with the realization that I have no real business experience to go on.
I didn’t take any courses in college, and I don’t like dealing with numbers (which I hear business people have to do).
That’s OK, Doden said.
The Northeast Indiana Small Business Development Center (ISBDC) offers business training and resources. You can always get a mentor or a business partner.
I might attend a few events hosted by the ISBDC just to see what it’s about.
But personal ambitions aside, the point is that city leaders are seriously looking for fresh, authentic ideas to shape the future of downtown, and they’re calling on young professionals to give their ideas a try.
When I talked to Bo Gonzalez a few months back about his experience starting Bravas, he told me how it was hard that first year—and it doesn’t get a lot easier after that.
He said the first day he had his hot dog cart downtown, he only sold a few to his mom and her friends.
Good ideas aren’t always successful right away, and now that business is booming, he’s still putting in long hours to maintain quality and make it even better.
Starting a company is no easy task, or quick way to get rich, Gonzalez said.
But if you’ve had an idea for a long time, and it keeps nagging at you, this is the time to start something.
The Landing has a lot of empty windows, and if you have the endurance of Edison, one of them could be yours.
HereSay, in partnership with YLNI, is a bi-weekly blog about our say on what’s happening here. It is written by YLNI member Kara Hackett, and the opinions are her own. Photo by Matt Thomas.HereSay@ylni.org