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The Journal Gazette

  • Toothaker

Sunday, January 24, 2016 8:46 am

Track record sealed Skyline deal

Dave Gong | The Journal Gazette

When selecting a developer for what would come to be known as Skyline Tower, city officials wanted to be sure the chosen plan would fit with the vision for downtown Fort Wayne.

From an initial six firms, city officials selected Great Lakes Capital from South Bend partly because of the design it put forward. But Greg Leatherman, the city’s community development director, also said that based on Great Lakes Capital’s track record, the firm appeared to be the most likely to succeed.

"It was pretty obvious when we cut it from six to three that three of the people were presenting projects that did not come close to meeting the expectations of the city compared to what was being built next to it. They weren’t compatible," Leatherman said.

Five of the six initial firms were from Indiana and one was from Ohio. Great Lakes Capital has Fort Wayne and South Bend offices.

Great Lakes Capital’s selection was announced Jan. 13, more than a year after Fort Wayne developer Hanning & Bean pulled out of the initial project.

At the time, Bill Bean, the firm’s vice president, cited an impasse with city officials over construction timing that he said would have cost his firm hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Great Lakes Capital, according to its website, is a real estate private equity firm formed in 2005. The firm has been involved in development projects including retail, commercial, residential and medical in Indiana cities such as Angola, Gary, Monticello, Frankfort, Columbus and Greencastle.

More than 20 of the firm’s projects are in South Bend and the surrounding area.

South Bend city spokeswoman Kara Kelly pointed to the firm’s partnership with the city of South Bend and University of Notre Dame at Ignition Park, South Bend’s state certified tech park. That project features a 50,000-square-foot multitenant facility for technology companies looking to grow and a 48,000-square-foot building that will house a partnership between the University of Notre Dame and General Electric. It’s also known as the Notre Dame Turbomachinery Facility.

Kelly also cited a partnership between the city and Great Lakes Capital to build a 200,000-square-foot shell building designed to attract a new logistics company to the area.

Using the shell building and the tech park as examples, Kelly said in the eyes of the city of South Bend, Great Lakes Capital is not a fly-by-night development firm, but a company with a strong reputation for success.

Citing university policy, spokesman Dennis Brown declined to comment on Notre Dame’s relationship with the firm.

"Because we interact with hundreds of local, regional, national and international companies, we’ve made it a policy to refrain from commenting on our relationships with them," Brown said in an email.

In Angola, Great Lakes Capital’s two projects are retail complexes – Peachtree Plaza, 1220 N 200 West, and Angola Retail Center 2 on North Wayne Street. Vivian Likes, Angola’s community development and planning director, said while she wasn’t aware of any issues with those agreements, they were done before she was hired to head her department.

Leatherman said Great Lakes Capital did the best job of convincing city officials and Tim Ash, CEO of Ash Brokerage, that it was the most likely to complete the project. The two other proposals, Leatherman said, were either asking for too much in public funds or did not demonstrate sufficient experience from previous projects.

"When this opportunity came about to develop this third and very important piece of the Ash project, we jumped right into the process with the request for qualifications and request for proposals issued by the city," said Brad Toothaker, managing partner of Great Lakes Capital. "We spent the majority of last year doing our due diligence on construction pricing, marketing, accounting, metrics, etc."

The variety of projects in Great Lakes Capital’s portfolio was what attracted city officials to the firm. Specifically, officials were impressed by the firm’s experience with urban revitalization, said Tim Haffner, the city’s corporate counsel.

"While this is a new building, they understood an urban environment, in terms of parking; fit with the surrounding area; what tenants expect to see who are going to be relocated to the downtown urban setting; what kind of retail would work in an urban setting," Haffner said. "These all seem like intangibles – they are intangibles – but they’re all relevant to believing that the proposal had a significant likelihood of success."

It was that same variety that attracted Great Lakes Capital to the Skyline Tower project, Toothaker said.

"We have a variety of experiences that put (the Ash project) right in our wheelhouse," he said.

Along with his involvement as a managing partner at Great Lakes Capital, Toothaker is also CEO of the Bradley Company, a real estate firm with a Fort Wayne office. Once Skyline Tower is complete, Bradley Company will take over management, leasing, maintenance, and overall care of the property, Toothaker said. Bradley will take up about 16,000 square feet of the commercial space. An additional 8,000 square feet will be available for a potential tenant. Two restaurant tenants are also lined up for the ground level of Skyline Tower, Toothaker said last week, noting that an agreement with those eateries is close to being finalized.

Great Lakes Capital will put $40 million toward the project, while the city of Fort Wayne will contribute $4 million in a tax increment financing-supported bond.

Tax increment financing refers to a specific district in which property taxes are captured and then used to fund improvements.

Great Lakes Capital will use community revitalization enhancement credits from the Indiana Economic Development Corp. and federal new markets tax credits to finance its portion. The firm also approached Northeast Indiana’s Regional Development Authority last week to ask for $2.8 million for the project. While the Regional Development Authority appeared receptive to the initial request, Toothaker said he’s doesn’t have an alternative plan should the request be denied for any reason.

Securing that funding is a condition of Great Lakes Capital’s loan agreement with Old National Bank. Toothaker said the Regional Cities Initiative award announced late last year came at the perfect time.

"We were at a standstill because we had this critical gap that we needed to have filled," he said.

dgong@jg.net