The Journal Gazette
Monday, August 22, 2016 10:09 pm

Buildings' condemnation is up to judge

Rebecca S. Green | The Journal Gazette

Fort Wayne won’t have to argue part of its case before a jury in an eminent domain lawsuit springing from the riverfront development proposal.

But a jury will weigh in on what the three properties along Superior Street are worth, and how much the city should have to pay to get them. 

That is if it gets that far. Allen County Circuit Judge Tom Felts has yet to rule on the property owners’ objections to the complaint for condemnation.

On Monday, he did issue a ruling on the property owners’ request for a jury trial, and the city’s arguments against it. Fort Wayne’s Board of Park Commissioners won that round.

"A jury trial during the first stage of a condemnation action is not appropriate because the action consists solely of legal issues to be decided by the court," Felts wrote in his order.

A lengthy hearing is scheduled for Nov. 9 on those issues, according to court documents.

In June, the city sued Gregory Cambray, Red Bird Properties LP and Burkhart Advertising Inc. in Allen County Circuit Court, seeking condemnation of three buildings just northwest of downtown, along the St. Marys River.

Two of the buildings are owned by Ream-Steckbeck Paint Co. in the 200 block of West Superior Street and adjacent on North Wells Street. The third building, Cambray & Associates, is at 312 S. Harrison St.

In April, city officials announced that the owners of the properties declined offers to buy the buildings, which are targeted for demolition and to be replaced by a city park that would connect to Headwaters Park.

The planned development would be the launching point for the proposed multimillion-dollar public-private partnership to develop the city’s riverfronts.

According to court documents, the city offered $447,500 for the Cambray & Associates building, and $818,000 for the Ream-Steckbeck buildings.

Felts has to decide first whether the city actually plans to put a park in place of the buildings.

An attorney for the property owners argued that the city couldn’t take the property through the redevelopment process because it isn’t blighted. So instead, the city went through the parks board, claiming it under eminent domain for a park.

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