Eric Doden summed up his staff's advice to the Allen County Redevelopment Commission on Tuesday in three words:
Buy more land.
Judging from the rest of his talk before the body at its January meeting, Doden, chief executive officer of Greater Fort Wayne, could have added five more:
Put up a spec building.
“Certainly, we are well beyond 'shovel ready,'” Doden said, referring to a common governmental strategy of having ground with infrastructure in place ready for new construction as a way of attracting expanding or new businesses.
But these days, he added, companies want more – and time is of the essence.
“They want that building to be there now,” Doden said, adding an ideal time frame is 18 to 24 months.
Doden made the remarks in the context of voicing approval of the commission's recent track record, which includes attracting XPO Logistics and the Walmart milk processing plant to county-acquired redevelopment land.
But also behind his statements is a dwindling amount of acreage the commission can market. It now has only 65 acres in the Stonebridge Business Park near General Motors in Lafayette Township, said Elissa McGauley, redevelopment director, after the meeting.
“I hope it (Doden's talk) is an incentive for us to get starting on working on additional land acquisition,” she said.
The commission hasn't been stymied by lack of funds – it has $6.5 million in its land banking fund, she said. But it has been “trying to purchase parcels strategically,” she said.
Doden indicated that some of those strategies could mesh with priorities of Greater Fort Wayne, a city-county economic development alliance composed of businesses.
He commended a recent private investment in a so-called spec or shell industrial building being developed and built by PB Development and Michael Kinder & Sons, both of Fort Wayne, on land near the General Motors plant.
“We could use more,” Doden said, referring to such buildings, which are built as raw, or shell, space – space able to be customized to the end user, unknown at the time of construction. The process is known as building on spec, short for speculation.
Doden also said Greater Fort Wayne is looking to develop more Class A office space in the downtown Fort Wayne urban core and in proximity to riverfront development. He said the Fort Wayne area lacks such space.
Greater Fort Wayne is now expecting East Coast companies in fields including insurance and health care to be interested in relocating to that kind of space – to avoid that area's high taxes and land prices or to establish a presence in the Midwest, Doden said.
Doden added he sees “opportunities” for development in the Monroeville and Woodburn areas of Allen County and near existing rail, highway and airport access.
“My encouragement would be to look at those opportunities,” he told the board, adding some suburban office space might also be a desirable product.
Rich Beck, commission president, reacted to Doden's talk by saying the commission is “looking for acquisitions at this time” but they “have to make sense” in the overall picture.
“We want to act as a catalyst,” he said. “We don't want to become a developer. We have plenty of those guys already.”
Doden after the meeting said he concurred. Because the supply of vacant land is limited, he said, a strategy is essential.
“We're just asking them to keep going.”