The Journal Gazette
 
 
Wednesday, May 18, 2016 9:00 am

Skyline OK'd for Regional grant

Sherry Slater | The Journal Gazette

Within one hour of announcing the first official Regional Cities Initiative grant on Tuesday, officials were hearing pitches for two more projects requesting a share of the region’s $42 million windfall from the state.

University of Saint Francis officials are seeking $2.8 million toward their downtown campus, a $14.6 million investment in renovating and equipping two historic buildings for classroom and other uses. 

Trine University officials are asking for $3.8 million toward an Angola ice hockey arena and a 3,000-seat events center, projects with a total price tag of $18.9 million.

Both requests will be voted on at a future board meeting.

On April 6, the Northeast Indiana Regional Development Authority approved its first award: $2.8 million for Skyline Tower, a $44.2 million residential and retail project to be built adjacent to Ash Skyline Plaza. The goal is to increase housing options in downtown Fort Wayne.

But the grant wasn’t official until the Indiana Economic Development Corp. reviewed and approved it. 

Local officials joined with developer Great Lakes Capital on Tuesday to announce that approval has been given. It was the first grant approved for any of the Regional Cities money.

The 12-story project includes 124 apartments, offices and retail space. Ruth’s Chris Steak House has already committed to be a tenant.

Assuming all goes well, Skyline Tower could open ground floor retail spaces and upper floor apartments next summer, with completion estimated for October 2018. 

The IEDC last fall decided three regions should each receive $42 million to enact their economic development plans. 

Northeast’s "Road to One Million" proposal included 70 projects costing more than $1.5 billion in total investment across the 11-county area over the next decade. The counties that banded together are Adams, Allen, DeKalb, Huntington, Kosciusko, LaGrange, Noble, Steuben, Wabash, Wells and Whitley.

The most expensive project is also the most expansive: a $72.5 million regional trail network that would connect all 11 counties.

The second-most expensive is the $68.7 million Fort Wayne riverfront development that could include a promenade with shopping and dining, a boat dock, a rock climbing wall and a railroad-themed attraction, among other elements.

North central’s winning plan includes revitalization of the former Studebaker Plant in South Bend and investment in Wellfield Gardens in Elkhart.

Southwest’s chosen submission includes a Science Center at the Signature School, residential development in Evansville’s downtown and gateway projects such as the Warrick Country Wellness Trail.

Saint Francis and Trine leaders on Tuesday assured members of the Northeast Indiana Regional Development Authority that the projects will benefit their respective communities.

Trine officials brought an all-star cheering section that included Richard Hickman, Angola’s mayor; Keith Busse, Steel Dynamics Inc. chairman and Trine trustee; Rick James, Metal Technologies Inc. chairman and CEO and Trine trustee; Tim Haffner, Faegre Baker Daniels partner and Trine trustee; and Ian Rolland, retired Lincoln National Corp. chairman and Trine trustee.

The presence of such heavy-hitters prompted Regional Development Authority board chairman Jeffrey Turner to jokingly ask who was running northeast Indiana during the meeting.

Bob Marshall, another board member, asked Trine officials pointed questions about whether the planned fitness center and bowling alley will compete with others already in the community. 

Trine President Earl Brooks II said there’s enough demand to keep existing and new amenities busy. The projects’ supporters include the YMCA, he said.

Mayor Hickman said residents are excited about the two proposed facilities and the prospect of attracting bigger musical acts to perform there.

The Trine project might have a more uphill road to approval than the request from Saint Francis because it wasn’t included in the "Road to One Million" submission to the state.

But that hasn’t proven to be a dealbreaker. The Skyline Tower project wasn’t in the proposal either.

Board members asked Saint Francis leaders challenging questions, too, including whether the building renovations will benefit the community or just be used by the 300 students, faculty and staff scheduled to use the facilities this fall.

Officials noted space will be available to rent for meetings, lectures, weddings and other events.

Rich Bienz, the university’s vice president of finance and operations, noted that Saint Francis officials were planning to make investments on the existing campus before city officials approached them and urged the university to create a downtown presence to make the downtown more of a destination.

The Keith Busse School of Business and Entrepreneurial Leadership is moving into 826 Ewing St., former home to the Greater Fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce.

The School of Creative Arts Music Technology program and Media Entrepreneurship Training in the Arts will occupy 431 W. Berry St., the Robert Goldstine Performing Arts Center. The building, which is around the corner from the new business school, was previously the Scottish Rite Center.

sslater@jg.net

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