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Private riverfront project OK’d

December 12, 2017 GMT

In a 3-1 vote, the Fort Wayne Redevelopment Commission on Monday approved a development agreement with Continental Property Group for a $61.7 million, seven-story mixed-use development along the city’s downtown riverfront.

The project, which city officials announced earlier Monday, will include 150 apartments and 20,000 square feet of retail space. Plans also call for a parking garage with more than 1,000 spaces. The development is on 3.34 acres at the northeast corner of Harrison and Superior streets, including the former Smurfit building, which is currently being torn down.

Redevelopment Commission President Christopher Guerin said it’s refreshing to see a private developer approach the city with a proposal for private investment. The city did not issue a request for proposals for the development, Guerin said.

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“You came to us, that is so refreshing that someone came to us without an RFP, because you saw an opportunity that we intended to create. There’s no question about that,” Guerin said. “We didn’t necessarily contemplate this exact thing, but we contemplated and expected investment right here.”

Continental Property Group is based in Minnesota but owns the Coastal Commerce Center on Meyer Road. Funding for the proposed project includes a 9,786,814 in developer cash equity. There is also the possibility of more than $6 million in state Community Revitalization Enhancement District tax credits. However, Director of Redevelopment Nancy Townsend said that application has not yet been completed.

“We see Fort Wayne as an excellent place to invest,” Traci Thomas, president of Continental Property Group said in a statement Monday. “We are excited to be part of the riverfront development and are looking forward to partnering with the city to create a one-of-a-kind, first-class project.”

Under the approved agreement, property taxes paid by Continental Property Group, as well as revenue from the parking garage, will be invested into the project. Fort Wayne City Council is also expected to consider a proposal next month to invest local income tax and community economic development income tax in the project over 25 years.

The city will also lease the parking garage from Continental Property Group for 25 years at 37 million over the term of the lease. To pay for the garage, Townsend said the city proposes using funds generated by the existing tax increment financing district where the project will reside, parking revenue from the garage and county economic development income tax.

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“This is exactly the type of private investment and commercial development we’ve been hoping and looking for along the riverfront,” said City Councilman John Crawford, R-at large. “The baseball stadium and many of the other public-private partnerships that we’ve done over the last several years, ... all of those things have required a lot of public investment, sort of to prime the pump, I would say.”

Crawford noted that Continental Property Group was attracted to Fort Wayne by previous economic development and quality-of-place projects and drew a “straight line from the baseball stadium to here.”

“The great majority of the money for this project is coming from private sources, not public,” Crawford said. “And that’s a huge thing.”

The Allen County Board of Commissioners is also excited about the development, Commissioner Therese Brown said Monday.

“As one of downtown Fort Wayne’s largest landowners and employers, the Allen County Board of Commissioners is excited to see the community’s vision for riverfront development come to fruition,” Brown said. “We are excited to partner with both the city of Fort Wayne and Continental Property Group on this beautiful mixed-use development project in the heart of the riverfront development area.”

The parking garage will sit on land owned by the county since 1849, Brown said. Prior uses include a jail, power plant and a surface parking lot for county employees. The project, Brown said, allows the county “to leverage our surface parking lot into a much larger parking structure” that serves employees, residents of nearby apartments and condos and visitors to downtown.

Continental Property Group approached the city a little more than a year ago with a proposal, Mayor Tom Henry said. Also involved in the project are local architecture and construction firms Design Collaborative and Weigand Construction.

“From that point until now, they’ve been nothing but a grand partner as far as their communication, their dedication, their passion for making just a little bit better place to live because of their presence,” Henry said.

City Councilman Jason Arp, R-4th, who also sits on the Redevelopment Commission, was the sole vote against the development agreement Monday. Explaining his vote, Arp said under the parking garage lease agreement, Fort Wayne taxpayers will pay $37 million for a parking garage the city doesn’t own. There are currently no other plans for dedicated parking for the riverfront promenade.

“The site will not generate any tax revenue, so basically more or less we’re building the parking garage for the site,” Arp said. “And at the end of 25 years we don’t have a garage, we’ll have to renew a new lease.”

Officials say the city will not have to borrow or bond for the cost of the parking garage or project. Construction could begin in the spring and be complete in the fall of 2019.

dgong@jg.net