On a trip to Fort Wayne, Indiana, catch a colorful wave of fresh development, plus a new hotel from the cofounder of Vera Bradley.
Promenade Park
Credit: Courtesy of Visit Fort Wayne

It's hard to find a block in Fort Wayne, Indiana, that artist Theoplis Smith III (aka Phresh Laundry) hasn't made his mark on. His I Scream Fort Wayne mural—a bright and unconventional interpretation of the Allen County Courthouse atop an ice cream cone being offered to an eager bulldog—enlivens a blank brick canvas on the side of a downtown building. His portrait of KISS frontman Gene Simmons hangs in a nearby salon, and his installation of paint-dipped frames brightens the lobby of The Bradley Hotel. "I'm always looking for new ways to connect to the community," Smith says. "Three years ago, I painted what music looks like—while wearing a tuxedo—with full orchestra backing from the Fort Wayne Philharmonic."

I Scream Fort Wayne mural
Theoplis Smith painting mural
Left: Credit: Courtesy of Visit Fort Wayne
Right: Credit: Will Smith

Smith's urban pop-art style might seem a strange pairing for a boutique hotel spearheaded by Vera Bradley cofounder Barbara Bradley Baekgaard, doyenne of the iconic quilted cotton bags. On deeper reflection, though, a partnership between Fort Wayne's OG maker and an emerging creative voice makes total sense, perfectly capturing the evolving spirit of the city. "We've been thoughtful about the artistic elements throughout the hotel, as we want them to tell the story of our city and the artists who are creating here," Baekgaard says. "We also have works from a revolving gallery of students, alumni and faculty at Purdue University Fort Wayne and many other talented people. We envision The Bradley as an extension of the creative community, a place where local art is a focal point."

The Landing storefronts
Credit: Courtesy of Visit Fort Wayne

Fort Wayne sits at the convergence of the St. Marys, St. Joseph and Maumee rivers, with shifting currents that echo the vibes flowing through the second-largest city in Indiana. In 2009, construction of Parkview Field (home to the TinCaps minor league baseball team) kicked off a flurry of expansion, both economic and arts-oriented. Among the larger ripples—The Landing, a sleek mixed-use development that once was a trading settlement integral to Fort Wayne's establishment in the late 1700s. At one time home to the city's first hotel, post office, newspaper and railway station, preserved storefronts on the short pedestrian stretch of Columbia Street are now home to trendy restaurants and boutiques. The Landing also includes thoughtful outdoor space for landscaped seating areas and fresh-air yoga classes. And of course, many buildings are wrapped in soaring murals.

Another project, the 39-acre Electric Works, is slated to launch later in 2022 and completely reimagines Fort Wayne's landmark redbrick General Electric complex. The multiuse space, which will open in phases, will reinvigorate the Broadway corridor between downtown and the city's south side with co-working space, a food hall, shops and condos.

Across the many improvements taking shape, art remains the cohesive thread. The Indiana Arts Commission recently designated Arts Campus Fort Wayne (home to the Louis Kahn-designed Arts United Center) a Statewide Cultural District. And the city's growing collection of murals, many fueled by volunteer efforts, provides a road map for self-guided art crawls. Artist Shawn Dunwoody even gave the community a chance to participate in the creation of the Hello, Fort Wayne mural, which includes outlines of hidden flowers that only appear when activated by the rain—a fitting representation of the city's growth yet to come.

The Best Things to Do in Fort Wayne

Eat Well

Settle into plush alcove seating at the Copper Spoon for expertly prepared seasonal cuisine in an intimate wine-cave setting. Nosh on contemporary Asian fare at Nawa or Cali-Mexican cuisine at Mercado. Find a spot on the deck at Don Hall's storied Old Gas House for dinner with a river view.

Visit a Dining Institution

Fort Wayne's Famous Coney Island has dished up hot dogs topped with Coney sauce and chopped onions for more than a century, arguably making it the oldest Coney stand in the country.

Grab a Drink

Sultry summer nights lure alfresco drinkers to the patio at stylish Club Soda for cocktails and small plates. Order a Full Nelson IPA in the airy urban space of Landing Beer Company.

Indulge Your Sweet Tooth

GK Baked Goods has a cult following for their cinnamon rolls and vegan hand pies. Chase the pastry truck around town or find GK at area farmers markets or Junk Ditch Brewing Company on weekends.

Get on the Water

To see the river the way the settlers once did, rent a kayak or canoe from Fort Wayne Outfitters. Or cruise the waterways on Sweet Breeze, a replicated 1800s canal boat.

Park It

On the banks of the St. Marys River, Promenade Park offers a canopy trail, permanent cornhole and table tennis stations made from concrete, and the Trubble Riverside Cafe.

Sweetwater drum room
Credit: Courtesy of Sweetwater

Jam Out

Unleash your inner rock star at Sweetwater, the country's top online music retailer. The 450,000-square-foot facility encompasses a dizzying selection of instruments, sound booths where you can noodle to your heart's content, recording studios and a kids' summer Rock Camp.

Shop for a Cause

In the Jefferson Pointe Shopping Center, goodMRKT has a beautifully curated selection of products that support charitable causes both in the community and around the world.

Catch a Game

Play ball! Head to Parkview field to cheer on the Fort Wayne TinCaps, the city's minor league baseball team. The season runs April through September.

Barbara Knows Best

Birdies at the Bradley Hotel
Barbara Bradley Baekgaard in office
Left: Credit: Courtesy of Visit Fort Wayne
Right: Credit: Courtesy of Vera Bradley

Here's how Vera Bradley cofounder Barbara Bradley Baekgaard would spend a night in her hometown: "For a great meal (outside of Birdie's at the Bradley, of course), I really like Catablu Grille. I always order the salmon and a glass of Chardonnay when I'm there. For an evening out, the Embassy Theatre and Fort Wayne Philharmonic are great options."