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Brian Schaper of Metro Real Estate is working to recondition this vacant storefront – and ideally much more – on Broadway.

Looking up on Broadway

Investor renovates vacant sites with eye toward revitalized area

The storefront at 2217-19 Broadway, next to Zesto’s, boasts new windows, light fixtures and color scheme. Schaper hopes to help transform the corridor into a vibrant, artsy district.
The 2,400-square-foot home, across from Zesto’s at Broadway and Creighton Avenue, could have commercial use downstairs and living space above, Schaper says.
Photos by Chad Ryan | Journal Gazette
Among Broadway’s rough jewels that Schaper is polishing is a late Victorian home with detailed woodwork that he envisions as home to a restaurant or boutique.

Brian Schaper has a vision for Fort Wayne’s Broadway.

From his vantage point at the restored Metro Real Estate building, 2402 Broadway, he sees the south side corridor becoming “Fort Wayne’s Broad Ripple” – referring to an Indianapolis north-side neighborhood teeming with restaurants, art galleries, night spots and funky shops that lures locals and tourists alike.

“I don’t want to see Broadway become a corridor of vacant lots and surface parking,” says Schaper, 40, Metro’s president. “I view the demolition of structures as leaving a weed-infested vacant lot and as a deterrent to revitalization. You need density to make it vibrant.”

So Schaper, a board member of Business on Broadway, a group devoted to improving the corridor’s prospects, has become a home-grown maestro of Broadway rejuvenation, having lately taken some of its most heaven-forsaken structures under his baton.

He’s turning them into living/work spaces he hopes will appeal to “creatives” – the artists, artisans and entrepreneurs who have embraced the lifestyle of Broad Ripple.

“I’ve looked at similar projects in Indianapolis, Chicago and Toledo,” he says of his plan. “It works.”

Perhaps the star of Schaper’s efforts so far is 2217/19 Broadway, known by many area residents as the dilapidated building just north of Zesto’s at the corner of Broadway and Creighton Avenue.

Schaper says the structure had gone to tax sale and was inches from a demolition order. It had been neglected for more than a decade and had little to recommend it, he says – unless one considers a leaking roof and the resultant water damage, worn and mismatched siding and drafty windows a plus.

“I hate to tell you, but it even disappointed me,” Schaper confesses, referring to the building’s interior. “I think we filled five bins with debris.”

But, Schaper says, all that made it easier to justify ripping the interior down to the studs while leaving some of the nicer features in place – the 12-foot ceilings, the big storefront windows, decorative column details and transom lighting above the exterior front doorways.

The features, he says, all hearken back to those of typical commercial establishments during the era when the building was likely built – around the turn of the 20th century.

He believes the place may originally have been a dry goods store. The part of the history he’s been able to trace, to 1931 during the Great Depression, has one side as a milliner’s shop and the other a confectioner. By World War II, that side had become a delicatessen.

Schaper says he thinks something like those uses might thrive again – with the person or persons occupying the building able to work downstairs and live upstairs, where there’s room for loft-style apartments.

He’s deliberately left the 2,200-square-feet spaces open, so both spaces could house one or two occupants.

“A building like that becomes a blank canvas, because the interior is now just one large room that can be reconfigured,” says Schaper, who received a city facade grant for the exterior, now a harvest gold color with blue trim.

“I’m trying to find the end user to do the build-out so we can tailor it to what they want to use it for.”

Because of Zesto’s traffic, he thinks something involving food might work – perhaps a luncheonette or café or specialty food market.

He has a similar vision for another building he’s working on – the sprawling, two-story late-Victorian home on the southeast corner of Creighton across from Zesto’s.

The 2,400-square-foot home has a large foyer with a multi-landing wooden staircase, a living area separated from the dining room by pocket doors and four bedrooms, including one with a bay window.

He thinks the downstairs could be a restaurant or boutique or professional office space with living space upstairs.

“With the exception of finish work, it’s done,” he says, adding that he’s not aware of many other spaces in Fort Wayne like the ones he’s creating.

Schaper also has designs on another building – a large, boarded-up brick at 1852 Broadway, just to the north of Laredo, a Mexican restaurant and grocery.

Members of Business on Broadway are developing a priority list for projects, says Schaper, who has earned commercial preservation awards from ARCH for previous projects.

Revitalization has to spread beyond downtown, he says.

“I consider those to be big-budget projects,” Schaper says. “But in the surrounding neighborhoods like Broadway, the scale is different. A single person can do it. It’s a human scale.

“I wish people would look at living here, working here, locating a business here,” he adds. “I say, ‘Live, work and play on Broadway.’ ”