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An artist’s rendering shows a proposed $71 million mixed-use project that will bring a local brokerage firm’s 200 employees to the heart of downtown and will also include retail and residential space and a parking garage.

Show of faith in downtown

•$71 million development to be Ash Brokerage’s HQ•Project expected to be completed by Aug. 2015•Cindy’s Diner moving to make way for projectVenture unites business, retail, residential uses

Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Mayor Tom Henry, left, announces the proposed $71 million Ash Brokerage building on Monday. Behind him, from left, are Bill Bean of Hanning & Bean Enterprises, Tim Ash of Ash Brokerage, and Eric Doden of the Indiana Economic Development Corp.
The Journal Gazette
Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
John Scheele, co-owner of Cindy’s Diner, talks about the future of his iconic restaurant Monday. The city block where Cindy’s now sits is slated to become the Ash Brokerage building.

Downtown will get a $71 million neighbor looming 17 stories tall.

A mixed-use project has insurance firm Ash Brokerage Corp. as the centerpiece of a development that includes an eight-story headquarters for the company, parking garage, retail space, condos, apartments and townhouses. In addition to Ash Brokerage’s 200 employees, the company expects to hire 115 more within three years. The average annual wage is $60,000, plus benefits.

Mayor Tom Henry on Monday announced that Ash Brokerage is moving from its West Jefferson Boulevard address to the city’s urban center in a deal that further demonstrates downtown’s resurgence. Ash Brokerage will occupy 95,000 square feet of the complex that will border Wayne, Harrison, Berry and Webster streets. The total square footage for the development will be more than 200,000. According to a release, the expansion is expected to be completed by August 2015.

“We believe in Fort Wayne,” said Tim Ash, president and CEO. “We hope this momentum keeps going and going.”

There might have been a time when such an investment might have seemed far-fetched for the city, but not now, Ash said.

“This isn’t a gutsy move because of all of the other things taking place downtown,” he said of his business that has a 40-year history in Fort Wayne. “We want to be a part of what’s taking place downtown.”

The last downtown project this big was the $84 million expansion of the Allen County Public Library, completed in 2007. Since then, Parkview Field, the $18.5 million Harrison and other investments have taken root.

Ash’s business will invest $19.6 million, which includes the retail space on the first floor.

“This isn’t about me … this is about community and our city,” Ash told about 50 people attending the announcement at Grand Wayne Center on Monday.

Ash Brokerage offers wholesale distribution of life insurance, annuities, long-term care and disability income insurance. In a Monday statement, the company said it is experiencing “major growth” and selected downtown for its headquarters.

Bill Bean is vice president of investment firm Hanning & Bean Enterprises Inc. of Fort Wayne. It will spend $32 million on the residential part of the project, as well as a parking garage, which the city will finance.

The city would provide a $19.5 million incentive package to the development that consists of land acquisition, site preparation, tax abatement and participation in the construction and operation of the parking garage. State officials also could kick in another $10 million in performance-based incentives.

Bean said collaboration between the parties involved – which started with Ash Brokerage – grew out of their confidence in the city.

“We all had a common vision that Fort Wayne could do great things,” Bean told the audience of business people, community leaders and city employees. His parking garage area also will feature a green space area. “This will be a game-changer for Fort Wayne because there’s nothing else like it.”

But the development won’t happen without some collateral effects. Popular eatery Cindy’s Diner, 830 S. Harrison St., will have to relocate.

“I knew this was coming,” co-owner John Scheele said. “The Redevelopment Commission is working on finding me a new spot. I just told them to make sure I’m near the Grand Wayne Center. There are a lot of open spaces down here, but they want to make sure they find one where I won’t end up having to move again.”