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No reservations

Then and now: The Indiana Hotel as seen in a vintage postcard and the Jefferson/Harrison intersection today.

– with the exception of the lobby – sat empty and abandoned while Embassy Theatre advocates dreamed of finding a way to save and restore it just as they had revitalized the attached theater. An investment from the Fort Wayne Redevelopment Commission will give the Embassy a well-deserved boost toward renovating the hotel as well as creating yet another reason to come downtown.

“There were a lot of developers that took runs at redeveloping the Indiana Hotel,” said Gary Wasson, an Embassy board member and co-chairman of the capital campaign for the hotel project. “The problem was that there was just so much work that needed to be done, and none of those ideas worked financially. You wouldn’t want to take this on from scratch.”

Several smaller projects over the years have reduced the space and make the idea of renovating the seven-story building a more economically viable proposal.

“All of the pieces just fell into place,” Wasson said. “It’s a prime example of patience being a virtue.”

On Monday, the commission voted unanimously to commit $750,000 to the Embassy Theatre Foundation’s efforts to renovate the space.

The $10 million project will include a two-story ballroom large enough to accommodate 300 people, a rooftop garden and bar overlooking downtown, administrative offices, a rehearsal studio and more dressing rooms for the theatre.

The project will complement the hotel’s lobby venue, a popular location for wedding receptions and other events.

Wasson said the private fundraising effort is moving along well and that – with the money from the commission – the capital campaign is halfway toward its goal.

“It’s kind of the last piece of the puzzle for downtown,” Wasson said. “We are very encouraged by the Redevelopment Commission awarding us the $750,000 and giving us the signal that we could come back for more. We’re encouraged not only by the financial gesture, but also the signal of support to the public.”

The money the Redevelopment Commission committed to the project will come from the Civic Center Tax Increment Financing district. TIF district dollars, which come from property tax revenue created by new development within the district, typically go toward infrastructure improvements, such as roads and sewers. But the revenue can be used for other projects if they will benefit the public.

Greg Leatherman, executive director of the Redevelopment Commission, said it was easy to justify investing the money because it will be yet another piece in the successful effort to revitalize downtown.

“The commission wouldn’t have, nor could have, supported the project without a lot of other people who are willing to support this project,” Leatherman said. “Everyone wants to see their money leveraged like the Embassy is doing.”

He notes the rooftop bar as an example of a unique attraction that will help bring people downtown.

“The Embassy has done an excellent job of working with the other organizations downtown,” Leatherman said. “We were very impressed that they were able to come up with a plan that is complementary to the other venues downtown rather than competitive with the other venues.”

The Indiana Hotel project will give the Embassy some much-needed additional space as well as offer another interesting attraction downtown. It is a project worthy of private and public support.