Fort Wayne’s Legacy Joint Funding Committee on Thursday moved three proposals forward in the funding application process.
Having received overall scores higher than 3.5 of a possible 5 from the committee members, concept letters from the Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory and the Clyde Theatre will be automatically considered for full approval. The committee also approved a concept letter from the YWCA in an 8-1 vote.
The Legacy Fund is money from the sale of the city’s old power utility. If no expenditures are approved, the fund is expected to have $37 million by the end of the year. If no money is spent through 2025, the fund is expected to grow to $78.7 million.
The conservatory’s request would connect the garden to the Embassy Theatre via a walkway, allowing visitors to access the facility from the parking garage on Calhoun Street without having to go outside. The project was first proposed in 1994 when the Embassy Theatre was connected to Grand Wayne Center but was shelved for financial reasons, said Mitch Sheppard, manager of the conservatory.
"We believe in short that it provides community connection and functionality," Sheppard said. "That it increases our ability to be self-sustaining, not a burden on the taxpayers, and that it expresses vitality, excitement and interest in a facility that quite frankly is already part of your community legacy."
The project would also create shared garden space with the Embassy Theatre to beautify and use space that would otherwise become a fire escape area, and would build a 24-foot high sculpture of a vine, Sheppard said. The committee ranked the proposal a collective 3.6 out of 5.
The total project cost is about $1 million. The conservatory is asking for a $200,000 grant from the Legacy Fund. Parks Director Al Moll, who also sits on the Legacy Fund committee, said the conservatory would consider taking a Legacy Fund loan rather than a grant if necessary.
With a collective 3.7 out of 5, a proposal for a $1 million loan for the Clyde Theatre, 1808 Bluffton Road, will also get a closer look from the committee later this year. In addition to the loan, the project has a $1.5 million bank loan and is seeking $1 million in contributions in Regional Cities Initiative funding from the northeast Indiana Regional Development Authority, Rick Kinney, who owns the Clyde Theatre, told the committee.
"The 2,000-capacity concert venue is a really nice sweet spot for a lot of acts and they drive up from Indianapolis to Grand Rapids to play at these types of venues. All the time they drive right through Fort Wayne," Kinney said. "So we’re going to attract more people to the city for one night, we’re going to attract people to the city for a weekend and we’re also going to keep the residents here instead of them driving outside Fort Wayne to spend their money."
The total project cost to renovate the theatre is about $5 million, Kinney said.
Kinney also said he does not plan to ask the city for a tax abatement to cover other costs of renovations to the theater or its parking lot. If approved, the allocation would not technically be a loan, but a grant with a reimbursement agreement, the city’s Sharon Feasel told the committee. Feasel also noted the city would have to come up with $1 million worth of public improvements to the site, since Even Keel Event Productions, of which Kinney is the managing partner, is a private company.
The final approval Thursday was for a proposal from the YWCA to expand its crisis center. The project would put the crisis center and Hope House, which merged with the YWCA last year, under one roof, Jan Wilhelm, who is co-chairing the project, and Debby Beckman, executive director of the YWCA, told the committee. Additionally, the expansion would offer more beds at both the crisis center and Hope House.
Ron Turpin, chairman of the Legacy Committee, voiced his support for the project, noting that he and his wife already provided a private contribution toward the expansion. Turpin said the project is transformational because for survivors of domestic violence, the crisis center is often the best option. Victims can bring their children and the facility is open to men as well as women, Turpin said.
"I don’t know if you’ve been to a Hope House graduation before, but it is a powerful thing," Turpin said. "The work that (Mary Etheart, director of the Hope House facility) and her team do there … if you talk to the judges, they will tell you it is transformational."
The proposals will come back before the committee Sept. 8 for review and recommendation. If approved, the proposals will then be considered by the City Council.