Two points to take away from Fort Wayne City Council’s uneasiness over financing for The Landing project, redevelopment of Columbia Street between Calhoun and Harrison streets:
1) New guidelines for Legacy Fund loans, approved in the wake of questions about the project, improve the process established to tap the trust created from proceeds of the City Light and Power lease.
2) The $2.5 million Legacy Fund loan for The Landing work still represents a good investment in a solid project.
Concerns about the total cost of the project have angered some council members, including Paul Ensley, R-1st, who Tuesday called it the “worst kind of public/private partnerships, where the developers will use different numbers to get money from different levels of government.”
Ensley, who didn’t support the loan when it was approved Jan. 24, suggested the Regional Development Authority was “duped” into funding a larger percentage of the project after authority members were given “false numbers” to work with. The RDA approved $6.9 million in Regional Cities funds for The Landing on Feb. 14.
At issue is $2.5 million in streetscape improvements the city administration has committed to do in support of the work on Columbia Street. It was not included in the Legacy loan application, but it was filed as part of the RDA application.
“This simply enabled (The Landing developer) to leverage the availability of Regional Cities monies,” explained Mac Parker, president of the Downtown Development Trust, noting that the council ordinance and RDA were filed almost simultaneously and both were public records.
Streetscape improvements have historically been the responsibility of the city and its redevelopment commission, Parker noted in an analysis of the Legacy loan.
“The Redevelopment Commission has been working on a comprehensive downtown streetscape plan, ultimately linking the new Arts Campus with the County Plaza area, west from Main Street along Harrison Street and north to the river,” he wrote, “And both the Trust and Model Group, as the developer, knew this and relied upon it.”
Council members might well be asked to approve the streetscape work in some fashion, but they will then have to decide whether a quarrel over the scope of the work they considered for the loan – preserving and revitalizing seven historic buildings and constructing a new building – justifies shortchanging the comprehensive plan. The improvements on Columbia Street support the exciting work about to begin at the riverfront, as well as plans for the Arts Campus.
The Landing project aside, the work that Councilman Michael Barranda, R-at large, did in drafting a resolution for the Legacy Fund loan process serves residents well. The process was designed to accommodate grants, not loans, but the council wisely determined that loans will help preserve the corpus of the Legacy trust. Going forward, applications for Legacy loans will go not just to the Legacy Joint Funding Committee but also to the investment committee entrusted with protecting the corpus. The investment committee will be responsible for establishing the terms of the loan.
Barranda said he was careful not to prescribe strict rules in the resolution, so as not to discourage anyone from seeking a Legacy loan.
“Let’s be transparent,” he said Tuesday, “Let’s hold ourselves accountable. Let’s encourage loans.”