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The Journal Gazette

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Thursday, November 09, 2017 1:00 am

City deal could free up OmniSource site

Liability for problems key issue; hospital, museum possibilities

DAVE GONG | The Journal Gazette

The Fort Wayne City Council could soon consider an agreement protecting OmniSource's owners against liability for environmental damage to the North River property, a popular site for future development.

Such an agreement could clear the way for the city or a private investor to buy the land owned by the Rifkin family on Clinton Street across from Science Central, which formerly housed electronics recycling company OmniSource.

A source told The Journal Gazette that the agreement, which would likely be offered by the city as part of a purchase agreement for the property, would protect the Rifkins from liability for environmental problems at the site.

Although he has yet to have official discussions about the project, Council President Tom Didier, R-3rd, said Wednesday he will be meeting with city officials early next week for a briefing on the OmniSource project.

“I don't know what that will entail,” Didier said.

In an email Tuesday afternoon, mayoral spokesman John Perlich would not confirm that the city is working on an agreement with the Rifkin family for the North River property. However, he did say the city expects to have an update on the site's status this week.

Acquiring the land with an environmental indemnification would clear the way for the city to sell the property to one of several interested suitors. One of those suitors is the Headwaters Junction railroad museum and roundhouse, which hopes to house the Nickel Plate 765 steam locomotive at that location. Original plans for Headwaters Junction placed the facility at a site on Harrison Street currently occupied by Pepsi.

“We've shifted focus from the Pepsi site as it was on the Riverfront Master Plan back to North River, which is where the project was originally conceived,” said Kelly Lynch, vice president of the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society. “We are in the process of obtaining property and right-of-way from Norfolk Southern to reach the riverfront district.”

Although there is interest in using the North River site for Headwaters Junction, several other prospective buyers have expressed interest, Lynch said. In October, the Lutheran Health Network placed a $4.37 million bid on the site.

“The network's acquisition of this land from the city of Fort Wayne would require all the necessary approvals and additional evaluation of the site,” Lutheran Health Network spokesman Geoff Thomas said. “This location is one of multiple downtown options the network is exploring for a new medical campus to replace St. Joseph Hospital.”

Despite outside interest in the location, Headwaters Junction would be the best use for the property, said Don Steininger, a member of the Headwaters Junction advisory board.

“We feel that Headwaters Junction is a user of the least desirable portion of the property and would jump-start the overall development of the better part of it for office development or whatever it's going to be,” Steininger said, noting that a series of Indiana Michigan Power lines run through the middle of the property and would cost more than $2 million to relocate.

“We can use 100 feet on the west side of the pole line, and we can take that skinny part all the way up to the north and leave a nice rectangular piece, a 10- to 12-acre site, that would be available for commercial development,” he said.

dgong@jg.net