The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, October 15, 2019 1:00 am

Ruoff wants project to start soon

CEO pressing to break ground within 6 weeks


The head of the company whose headquarters are set to tower over Parkview Field's third-base side would like the project to start in the next six weeks.

Mark Music, president and CEO of Ruoff Mortgage, appeared Monday at a news conference hosted by Mayor Tom Henry.

After the event, Music told The Journal Gazette the first thing needed to get the project off the ground – after an economic development agreement and other approvals are reached – is assessing and cleaning up contaminated soil.

The site at the southwest corner of Ewing Street and Jefferson Boulevard in downtown Fort Wayne held an auto repair shop for many years.

Music said the decontamination process is built into the development agreement, and the city has quotes for the work. 

“It's actually being paid for by a third party, the party responsible for contaminating it,” he said.

When the headquarters is finished, Music said, it will bring in 250 to 275 jobs. Completion is expected in 20 months to two years, he said.   

Ruoff has about 185 employees at its headquarters at 1700 Magnavox Way, a location that can't accommodate his growth plans.

“When we went in (it was) on a temporary basis, and we thought it would be for maybe a year-and-a-half, and it turned into three years,” Music said. One solution, he said, might be to split up employees, with some at a location in a western time zone.

Music's preference, however, is to keep everyone together. And being downtown factors into recruitment efforts.

“We're trying to attract young talent. It's that vibrant, downtown lifestyle that is so popular,” he said.

The building, which would have 110,000 square feet of office and retail space and a nine-level parking garage, jumped two hurdles later in the day.

The Fort Wayne Plan Commission on Monday approved the primary development plan for the new Ruoff Home Mortgage building. The development will not be granted waivers for all of the digital signs planned for the building's facade, however.

“Each facade that has a waiver request, it meets the ordinance allowances for static signs but not for LED changing or (electronic message centers),” senior planner Michelle Wood said. “For that, the ordinance only allows 40 square feet on any facade.”

According to documents submitted to the city/county department of planning services, the developers requested waivers to allow 430 square feet of digital signage on the east facade, 465 square feet on the north facade and a total of 765 square feet – split between three electronic signs – on the west facade.

The Plan Commission's site committee for the project discussed how the signage proposed for the north, west and east sides could distract drivers.

The site committee recommended approving waivers for the north and east sides of the retro-style brick building, but not on the west, Wood said.

“That's facing (traffic) as you're coming east on Jefferson one way, that would basically be a billboard-sized (electronic message center),” she said. “They approve that as static and not digital.”

Wood said Ruoff would be able to install a back-lit static sign on the north facade, but not a digital sign that could change its display at any time. A portion of the signage could still be digital, but the originally requested 765-square-foot digital signage for that side of the building won't be allowed.

Plan Commissioner Judi Wire, who was the sole vote against approval of the primary development plan, had questioned the need for so many large signs on the building during a public hearing on the development last week. On Monday, she said she still thinks Ruoff is asking for an “awful lot of signage” for one building and worried that they will be distracting for drivers.

City Councilman Tom Freistroffer, who is council's appointee to the Plan Commission, was absent Monday.

The Fort Wayne Redevelopment Commission also voted Monday to approve the site for a tax increment financing district.

The $43.5 million project also needs the Fort Wayne Board of Zoning Appeals to approve some rooftop signage.

Henry said during the news conference that having a company like Ruoff locating its headquarters downtown shows Fort Wayne “is worth investing in.”

Ruoff has grown from 18 employees to more than 700 today. The company has more than 55 lending offices in five states and an online consumer-direct platform that operates in 40 more.

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