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Developers commit to downtown condos, hotel

With the exuberance of Parkview Field’s opener past, the reality of the holes – figurative and literal – within Harrison Square is clear.

Where a condominium/retail building and a Courtyard by Marriott were touted, sit only empty sites. Most of the private investment in the $130 million Harrison Square project has not been made.

When last speaking to the Fort Wayne City Council in November, the developers of The Harrison condominium building said condominium contracts would call for a groundbreaking before Thursday’s home opener. Originally, the developers hoped The Harrison opening would coincide with that of the new downtown baseball stadium.

That groundbreaking has not occurred, but project developers are hopeful the excitement, and large crowds attending games at the new ballpark, will help sell the other parts of the project.

“I think that makes the idea of living here more attractive,” said Jason Freier, CEO of Hardball Capital, owner of the TinCaps. Hardball is a partner with Barry Real Estate, which is developing The Harrison.

Freier said they are still committed to the project as soon as they can obtain financing for the $14.5 million development. The recent economic collapse has been blamed for the lack of available loans for the work.

The forecast appears to be better regarding the proposed $20 million Courtyard. The hotel’s contract called for construction to begin by Jan. 1. While work hasn’t started and the building permit has expired, the project has received partial construction financing, according to Steve Brody, city consultant on the project.

He said White Lodging of Merrillville is working with several local lenders in an effort to get the rest of the financing to build the 250-room hotel. An update on the project is expected soon, he said. The hotel is vital to the long-term viability of the project because its property taxes are to be used to pay loans taken to build Parkview Field and the nearby parking garage.

“The hotel is much more likely to get started first,” said Greg Leatherman, Fort Wayne’s executive director of redevelopment.

In order to secure financing for The Harrison, Freier said the top priority is signing quality retail tenants for the first floor of the building. The second focus is selling more condominiums. He said there remains the same number of people committed to the condominiums, while adding it wasn’t a “huge number.”

“Retail interest is strong, (but) corporations these days are acting very slowly,” he said.

The condominium project has signed one tenant, Anytime Fitness, which will let customers watch minor-league baseball while working out at a two-story, 6,000- to 7,000-square-foot gym.

Freier said they have two letters of intent from other tenants, including one that would take up at least half of the available space.

Securing the retail is key, he said, because it not only provides a solid tenant with a steady rent, but it also adds to the allure of the project. He said many potential condo buyers want to know what will be below them in the building.

Rumors have swirled about The Harrison shrinking in size, and though Freier said there have been numerous discussions about how to get the project started, he doesn’t anticipate that happening.

“We want the best project possible here,” he said. “I don’t see it being less than two stories of living.”

That living could include a mix of condominiums and high-end apartments, Leatherman said. He stressed the developers were only exploring mixing apartments into the project, and no decision has been made on a possible split of condos and apartments.

The project’s scope was previously reduced, from a 62-unit, $21 million complex to 30 condominiums costing about $14.5 million.

Freier said the larger plan was based on the initial interest from people in the project – more than 50 potential buyers gave $1,000 refundable deposits – but said the current plan is exactly what the company promised the city it would build in the contract.

He said even though the condominiums haven’t started, there is no fear of losing people currently interested in the project.

Leatherman understands the ongoing concerns about the projects, but he said it wouldn’t be right to put something that doesn’t fit next to the new ballpark.

“It’s more important to get it right than to just do something,” he said.

blanka@jg.net

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