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The Journal Gazette

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Tuesday, November 14, 2017 1:00 am

City step closer to buying property

Panel OKs purchasing site across from Science Central

DAVE GONG | The Journal Gazette

The Fort Wayne Redevelopment Commission on Monday approved agreements necessary for two downtown area redevelopment projects to move forward.  

In a 3-2 vote, the commission approved the purchase of land in the North River Urban Renewal Area. The approval moves forward a decadelong plan to purchase and develop a site on Clinton Street across from Science Central north of downtown. 

“Getting control of it is something that, frankly, is long overdue and I think is really the biggest step forward for downtown since Harrison Square,” Commission President Christopher Guerin said. “This is monumental in my view and it's an incredible opportunity for us, and if we pass up this opportunity we may never have it again.”

City Councilman Jason Arp, R-4th, and Commissioner Thom Obergfell voted against the measure. 

City officials announced a purchase agreement with the Rifkin family, which owns the site formerly occupied by metals recycling company OmniSource, last week. Although the agreement has yet to be finalized, several entities have expressed interest in buying the site, including the Headwaters Junction railroad attraction.

Lutheran Health Network is also interested in the land as a possible site for a new hospital and Greater Fort Wayne Inc. has previously suggested using the parcel for a science, technology, engineering, arts and math, or STEAM, park. 

Monday's approval is just one step the city must take to purchase the land. The Allen County-Fort Wayne Capital Improvement Board is expected to consider a request to cover the $4.63 million purchase price at a meeting this week. The City Council must also consider approval of an agreement absolving the Rifkins of liability for any environmental cleanup required for future development.

That measure is expected to be introduced during tonight's City Council meeting with final approval scheduled for Nov. 28. If the necessary approvals are granted, officials hope to close on the property by Dec. 1. 

In a 4-1 vote, the Redevelopment Commission also approved economic development and interlocal agreements with Fox & Main LLC for a planned boutique hotel at the corner of Harrison and Main streets downtown. Details of the 125-room hotel, which were revealed this month, call for a five-story building with restaurants, ground-floor retail space and a rooftop entertainment area. 

The project is the result of a partnership between Vera Bradley co-founder Barbara Bradley Baekgaard and Bashar Wali, president of Provenance Hotels. The Portland, Oregon, company owns and operates 10 hotels nationwide.  

“This will attract even more visitors to our downtown area, whether they're guests at the hotel, whether they're going to the restaurant or simply conducting or attending a meeting within the property,” said Rob Young, senior director of business development for the Hagerman Group. “It will be a great space and a solid anchor on that corner.” 

Arp was the sole Redevelopment Commission member to vote against the measure. 

dgong@jg.net