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The Journal Gazette

Monday, March 20, 2017 10:03 pm

Bowser Pump demolition delayed to let preservation group tour site

Dave Gong | The Journal Gazette

Fort Wayne City Councilman Glynn Hines isn’t optimistic that a developer can be found quickly enough to save the Bowser Pump building.

Demolition work was expected to begin Thursday on the building at 1302 E. Creighton Ave., on the city’s southeast side, but it has been put on hold. The city announced construction barriers had been moved in place and Martin Enterprises would begin work on the interior before moving on to the exterior. The demolition is being done on behalf of the McMillen Foundation, which owns the site, using federal Community Development Block Grant funds.

Those plans were put on hold Friday after a meeting between Hines, Mayor Tom Henry, area residents opposed to the demolition and representatives from Indiana Landmarks. The group was allowed to tour the main office building and evaluate whether it’s cost-effective or possible to perform renovations. The interior, Hines said, is in a state of disrepair and would likely cost between $4 million and $5 million to renovate. 

"A lot of repairs would have to take place, and the bottom line is if the McMillen Foundation wants to demolish, no matter what anyone else says, it’s going to be demolished," Hines said. "The only way is if someone in the very short term comes up with the necessary money." 

In a statement Monday, mayoral spokesman John Perlich characterized the meeting as positive, but expressed doubt that Indiana Landmarks will be able to find a developer willing to invest funds into the necessary renovations. 

"(The hold) will allow for Indiana Landmarks to make contact with the McMillen Foundation, the owner of the Bowser building, to discuss the possibility and liability of Indiana Landmarks purchasing the building or finding a developer," Perlich said. "However, it’s our belief that it will be difficult for them to find a developer and demolition work will ultimately be the end result. Efforts over several years have not led to a developer expressing interest in the properties due to the conditions of the structures."

Both the McMillen Foundation’s board of directors, as well as that of Indiana Landmarks, must approve the effort to stop the demolition, Hines said. If either board rejects the request, the demolition will move forward. 

Although there is no word on how long the hold will last, Hines said he thinks it won’t be longer than 60 days.

Indiana Landmarks has a strong interest in saving the building, Paul Hayden, director of the organization’s northeast Indiana field office. Though he admits it was Indiana Landmarks’ first time inside the 100-year-old office building, he and another representative from the organization found it in good overall condition. 

"Obviously, the utilities are needed to be updated, the plumbing, heating, electric, but the structure was really well-built and fairly well maintained by the police department," Hayden said. "Based on that, we have a strong interest to want to see the historic structure saved."

The site had served as headquarters for the Fort Wayne Police Department until 2012.

Rehabilitating the building falls in line with Indiana Landmarks’ mission, Hayden said. It’s too early to tell whether the organization will be successful in saving the building, but Hayden said Indiana Landmarks is devoting staff resources to the task. It will be a challenge to find a developer in a short amount of time, Hayden said, given that the McMillen Foundation and the city see the building as an expensive liability. 

Indiana Landmarks plans to reach out to developers who have experience renovating other historic buildings to gauge interest in potentially turning the site into a mixed-use housing and commercial development, Hayden said.

The organization plans to report back to city officials and make contact with the McMillen Foundation within a week or two regarding those efforts.