The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, March 15, 2016 9:59 pm

City tweaking plans for river

Dave Gong | The Journal Gazette

A promenade, docks and maybe some green space or public art are projects that could begin as early as next spring as the city fine-tunes plans for Fort Wayne’s riverfront.

There are no set plans for what will eventually be installed along the riverfront. The city is focusing on purchasing property in an area that extends along the St. Marys River from Harrison Street to the Wells Street Bridge and north to Fort Wayne Outfitters. The area has been dubbed "Phase 1-A" and architectural designs for that portion of construction projects won’t be ready until sometime next year.

So far, none of the property owners approached by the city has objected to the possibility of selling their buildings, Deputy Mayor Karl Bandemer said.

Five buildings have been identified for possible acquisition in the target area, Bandemer said. Those buildings include Cambray & Associates Inc., 312 S. Harrison St., the now-closed Ream-Steckbeck building at 200 W. Superior St., the Allen County Community Corrections facility at 201 W. Superior St. and the Fort Wayne Rescue Mission at 301 W. Superior St. 

"We have an offer to Steckbeck and we’re expecting to get a counteroffer from him," Bandemer said. "We have had a meeting with (Cambray) and we have another meeting coming up to try to get to an agreement on the price."

According to records from the Allen County Assessor’s Office, the Cambray building is valued at $287,300. Ream-Steckbeck has an assessed value of $247,400 and the Rescue Mission facility is valued at $557,000. The Community Corrections building has no assessed value because county-owned buildings do not have property taxes associated with them, said Joe Szkalarz, commercial industrial appraisal deputy at the Allen County Assessor’s Office.

The city also plans to acquire the old Smurfit building at Harrison and Superior streets near the Superior Lofts development.

RealAmerica LLC, which owns the building, will give it to the Downtown Development Trust, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, Bandemer said. The Smurfit building at 124 W. Superior St. is valued at $239,500, according to the Allen County Assessor’s Office. 

Jeff Ryan, a development associate at RealAmerica, confirmed that RealAmerica plans to turn the building over to the trust. The company is still working through the details on that deal, he said. Ryan also said at one point the Smurfit building was considered as potential parking for the nearby Superior Lofts, but the company decided against it in favor of another planned parking structure north of the development.

"In the short term, once (the Smurfit building) is gone, we would use part of that property as surface parking until a garage is completed north of Superior Street," he said. 

The trust, according to the Greater Fort Wayne Inc. website, "seeks money and property for short- and long-term downtown capital projects."

"The Community Foundation (of Greater Fort Wayne) will give the trust the money to tear the building down and to then bring in structural material to bring it back to original grade, the way the ground used to be," Bandemer said. "Then the trust will give that to the (Fort Wayne) Redevelopment Commission."

David Bennett, executive director of the Community Foundation of Greater Fort Wayne, said the foundation has awarded $500,000 in grants to tear down the building. 

"There were hopes that (the Smurfit building) could have been repurposed for something else, but there are big issues with that building being in the flood plain," Bennett said. 

While there are no concrete plans for what will be built in place of the Smurfit building, Bennett said some ideas have included a sculpture garden or additional green space.

The Rescue Mission has talked to the city about buying its building, said Donovan Coley, CEO of the Rescue Mission. He said the city is not pressuring the organization to move to a new location.

"They are interested, however it is because we initiated the conversation within the framework of economic development," Coley said. "At the same time, we’re being driven by human development. We think human development comes before economic development."

The Rescue Mission identified the need for a larger facility about three years ago, Coley said.

The organization has its eye on several properties around Fort Wayne and is performing a feasibility study to determine if it will be possible to launch a capital campaign to fund the relocation. 

A message left for the owner of Cambray & Associates Inc. seeking comment was not immediately returned.

There have been no formal conversations about the city potentially buying the Community Corrections building, County Commissioner Nelson Peters said. The Community Corrections facility is owned by the commissioners. Should the city express interest in buying the property, Peters said that’s something the commissioners would "absolutely" consider. However, there are factors that need to be considered throughout the process, he said. 

"We have to be careful in that we’ve got a fully functioning program running out of there and if that’s to go we’re going to have to find a suitable place for it," Peters said.

Property purchases will be financed with a combination of money earmarked for the project from the city’s Legacy Fund, and funds from the Allen County-Fort Wayne Capital Improvement Board. The City Council in May approved the use of $6 million in Legacy Fund money for the first phase of development.

Similarly, the Capital Improvement Board is contributing $3 million toward the endeavor. The Community Foundation of Greater Fort Wayne also pledged $3 million toward the project’s first phase.

The city hopes to complete the necessary land acquisitions by the end of the year, Bandemer said. 

Other aspects of Phase 1A of the project are moving forward as well. Bandemer said a master plan that looks at revitalization and maintenance of the banks of the St. Marys River is complete and a feasibility study for the proposed Headwaters Junction, a railway museum and home for the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society’s steam locomotive, No. 765, is underway.

Steel Dynamics in July donated $15,000 toward the Headwaters Junction study. A message left at Steel Dynamics seeking comment was not immediately returned. 

The Community Foundation of Greater Fort Wayne contributed funds to both studies, Bennett said. The foundation gave $42,000 toward the riparian master plan and contributed about $26,000 toward the Headwaters Junction study, he said. 

The city also has a request for proposals to architectural and engineering firms.

Those documents are due back to the city Sept. 8, and a firm is expected to be chosen sometime in October. Design plans for the project’s first phase could be complete as early as next spring, Bandemer said, adding that the city would like to start construction as soon as possible after the designs are finalized.

The city used an $8 million construction budget as a starting point, but Bandemer said that budget could change after the designs are finalized. 

Most of the work that will be performed next year will likely take place within the boundaries of Phase 1-A, Bennett said. 

"I think that’s where you’re going to see the most activity in the next 12 months – the city will acquire property and clear it for future use," he said.

"We may see the promenade and a boat dock in there early next year, but in terms of long term use for that property or anything close by, that’s still up in the air."

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