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Council approves $750,000 for Embassy renovation

City Council members on Tuesday voted to give $750,000 in Legacy Fund money to the Embassy Theatre's proposed $10 million renovation of the long defunct Indiana Hotel.

The plans are highlighted by a two-story ballroom able to seat 300 people, and a roof-top garden and bar overlooking Fort Wayne's revitalized downtown.

Embassy officials have raised $5.8 million so far, including $750,000 from the Fort Wayne Redevelopment Commission, which will dedicate money from a special tax district in the area.

"This is basically the final stage of a 40-year project," said Gary Wasson, an Embassy board member and co-chairman of the capital campaign, who noted that efforts to do something with the hotel date to the 1970s when the community raised money to save the Embassy from being turned into a parking lot.

Executive Director Kelly Updike said the Embassy is at capacity and needs the space, and a conservative estimate shows the space will be self-sustaining after construction.

The plan calls for converting the sixth and seventh floors of the seven-story building into a two-story ballroom with balconies and a grand staircase. The fourth floor would become administrative offices, and the space they now occupy on the second floor would become a public space, such as a lounge. The fifth floor would become a rehearsal studio and classrooms. Some undeveloped space in the lower level near the backstage dressing rooms could become more dressing rooms.

Council members voted 6-3 to approve the spending; six votes are needed for Legacy Fund projects. The Legacy Fund comes from the lease and sale of the city's old electric utility and is dedicated to projects with potential to transform the community.

Voting against the move were John Crawford, R-at large; Russ Jehl, R-2nd; and Mitch Harper, R-4th. Harper said he wants to support the project, but Embassy officials should have gone to the Capital Improvements Board first, which is funded by the county food and beverage sales tax.

"I think this is an incredible project," Harper said. "But my vote is more in the nature of I'm looking to see this held by the City Council until it goes before the Capital Improvements Board, which I think is the more appropriate source."