It’s a big deal – not a done deal.
The Northeast Indiana Regional Development Authority on Wednesday approved its first grant: $2.8 million for Skyline Tower, a $44.2 million residential and retail project to be built adjacent to Ash Skyline Plaza in downtown Fort Wayne.
"It goes without saying, this is a momentous occasion," board chairman Jeff Turner said after the unanimous vote.
Although no applicant can receive a piece of the region’s $42 million Regional Cities Initiative grant without the RDA’s approval, the board doesn’t have the final word. The Indiana Economic Development Corp., the source of that $42 million, must review and approve each grant before a check can be written.
Assuming the IEDC approves, developer Great Lakes Capital is also waiting for the Fort Wayne City Council to approve a tax abatement that is "critical" to funding the project, said Dave Arnold, who represented the developer. Great Lakes is asking for a 10-year, phased-in property tax abatement. Arnold didn’t know the estimated savings Wednesday. City Council is expected to vote on the abatement April 26.
The RDA’s five board members spent about an hour questioning Arnold on details of the proposed 12-story building. Although Great Lakes managing partner Brad Toothaker first presented the project to the board in January, this was the first time RDA members saw a financial breakdown.
The project’s financing rests on a $4.1 million bond issue from the city; about $17 million in federal New Markets Tax Credits; about $5 million in local equity; and about $5.5 million in state Community Revitalization Enhancement District (CReED) credits. Old National, Lake City and Salin banks are lending money to the South Bend-based developer.
Turner said an application that Great Lakes was asked to complete is a work in progress. The IEDC might revise the form to require more information from applicants, he said.
"We’re still inventing the wheel," Turner said after the meeting. "We are using this (project) as a guinea pig."
John Sampson, the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership’s president and CEO, expects the approval process to be a bit smoother in the future.
"There will be less questions," he said.
Sampson’s staff also supports the RDA board. By learning which issues board members want to focus on, the Regional Partnership staff can focus on those details when preparing grant applicants to present requests to the board for approval, he said.
Sampson estimated that about a dozen projects are nearly ready to be presented to the board for approval. But before asking for money, groups must have financial commitments in place. IEDC officials don’t want Regional Cities grant money to pay for more than 20 percent of a project. And they don’t want other sources to rely on Regional Cities money as a condition of their funding approvals.
Assuming all goes well, Skyline Tower could open ground floor retail spaces and upper floor apartments next summer, with completion estimated for October 2018. Ruth’s Chris Steak House has already committed to be a tenant.