Driving through downtown Fort Wayne these days is a completely different experience than just five years ago.
There are better, more unique restaurants. Great sports. Sprawling trails and well-used bike lanes. A full buffet of arts & cultural organizations and events. And some really good, really loud music, from some pretty great venues. Roll down your windows, ease up on the gas pedal, and take it all in.
Most importantly, there are more people working, playing and living downtown than most of us can remember. It’s the place to be!
One Lucky Guitar is proud to call downtown home, and proud to have served many of the businesses and organizations that have tipped a once half-empty cup into one that’s brimming with greatness.
We work hard to support those who are making the community a better place.
For groups small and large, we’ve been helping many downtown assets better tell their stories for more than a decade. Most times, we bill appropriately for our services; other times, we donate our time to a hard-working non-profit, and are paid with good vibes and gratitude. But one time, for a particularly noteworthy project, we got stiffed.
This is the story of another side of The Harrison.
In late Spring of 2008, we were approached by Barry Real Estate to create the website and support marketing materials for The Harrison—the mixed-use residential and commercial building that, along with a new hotel and parking garage, would help anchor the new downtown ballpark that was the centerpiece of the City of Fort Wayne’s Harrison Square project.
The website had a modest budget ($15K), but we went all-in on the project. Why? Pretty simple: we were so incredibly excited about the Harrison Square development. We’d walk down to the groundbreaking ceremonies, the topping-offs, the random milestones, even the ballpark naming—we were there. We walked the construction zone and picked our field box—in which we’ve had season tickets for every season—when Parkview Field was but a concrete slab and diamond-shaped dirt patch.
As we worked on the website, we spent scores more hours on the work than we had estimated. Where we could have blocked in dry broker copy, we wrote with a voice that reflected a new downtown. Where we could have used CAD floorplans, we re-drew and animated them with style. Staid 3-D architectural renderings were given a cinematic scope. We contracted a commercial photographer to help capture downtown’s vibrancy in a new way, and a communications strategist to help navigate the politics of the development.
The site was designed in Flash, but hey, it was 2008. The site still kicks all kinds of ass.
Our client so loved that work, we were pulled aside at the topping-off ceremony for the stadium and asked to help build the brand for the baseball team.
Would the name be the TinCaps, or the Octane? On a handshake, we were promised another $5K for these services.
And while we struck out on ever getting paid for that work, we knocked the design work clean out of the under-construction ballpark.
Everyone knows what happened next, right? The Great Recession. Suddenly, $300K condos became a bit of a stretch. We were understanding, and continued to support the never-paid-for website through the tough times, being told that when the project became real—when ground was broken—we’d finally be able to bill for our work.
These groundbreaking deadlines were missed. And missed again. And missed one more time. And then a few more times.
Eventually, Barry Real Estate was out of the picture. Depending who you ask, they went out of business. (Their ©2014 website portrays a different story.)
Finally, in 2011, the City announced that a new entity had been created to resurrect the project, and see it through—only now with apartments in place of condominiums. This announcement was made just a couple weeks before opening day, and we were begged to drop what we were working on to design—and produce—new “now available” banners to display on the outfield concourse. These needed installed by the time the season started, in just a few days. We balked. Asking to be first paid for our past work on The Harrison’s website and logo (as well as our work for the ball club), we were told a down-payment check had been cut, and would be in the next FedEx out of Atlanta.
And yeah, we fell for it—“the check’s in the mail” (er, FedEx)—and completed the design. Our banner vendor asked that OLG cover the production costs (since we already had good-standing account with them), and in the interest of posting banners by the time the first pitch was thrown, we did.
Perhaps this is the part of the story where one might point out our youthful naiveté. (We’re good with that.)
It took us 18 months to get paid for that design work and banner production, which—spoiler alert—is the only payment we’ve ever received for any piece of any of this work.
We used that money to pay the photographer and communications consultant we had engaged in the early stages of the website development—several years earlier.
So we declined.
In that conversation, I was told by this project partner that OLG’s agreement was with Barry Real Estate, not the new entity, and that us not getting paid “may not be fair, but it’s legal.”
That reminds me of the old axiom “Business is business.”
At OLG, we say: “Business is business is bullshit.”
We have another client—an honorable one—who says, “Let’s do the right things for the right reasons.” (Needless to say, we fight like hell for our friends at that organization.)
Through the years, we’ve tried to dance with about everyone at the Harrison Square party, hoping to finally receive payment for our work. Project managers and partners. Governmental leaders, volunteers and advocates. Likewise-screwed vendors, lawyers and committee members. Some really good people, mind you. Sometimes it sounds like it’s a go—checks are close to being drafted. Emails get sent. Meetings happen. Documentation is supplied and corroborated. Phone calls are made, and so are promises.
And then the leads dry up.
At the last TinCaps game I attended, I saw people handing out flyers about the residential and commercial real estate opportunities at The Harrison. Prominently displayed on those flyers—as on the new website and other marketing collateral (PDF) selling the project—is the Harrison logo that we designed, and were never paid for.
If you spend a little time at The Harrison, you’ll find elements of our logo throughout the space. Last summer, a new blade sign was installed on the building’s Jefferson facade, and if the lyrics aren’t the same, well…the melody sure is.
Our attorney remarked this is like watching someone drive around in a car that they stole from you.
That’s one way to describe it.
Why write this?
A lot of businesses—and individuals—had a tough time with this project, and we’ve got empathy for almost all of them. Sometimes it can feel like there’s an asterisk on the story that’s being told, and we feel a lot better about being part of momentum that’s got as few asterisks as possible.
Do we believe we’ll ever get paid at this point?
Not really, and if we did, it wouldn’t be to line my pockets, or to upgrade OLG’s server or buy a nicer Keurig. Quite honestly, if we ever see payment, we will literally use every cent to throw an epic downtown block party, likely headlined by a four-piece rock & roll band from Sydney, Australia.
The point…the point, as always, is to try to make the community a better place—in every way—and to do the right things for the right reasons.