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Rendering of the $71 million mixed-use project. Photo credit: City of Fort Wayne, Ash Brokerage, Hanning & Bean Enterprises Inc., Weigand Construction, Emerald Design Group, MSKTD & Associates, and Hoch Associates Design Collaborative.

Board OKs $6.5 million for downtown project garage

FORT WAYNE – The Ash Brokerage project to cover a city block with offices and housing in two towers took a giant step forward Thursday when the Capital Improvements Board agreed to finance a key part of the development.

Board members voted unanimously to support a request by Fort Wayne city officials for $6.5 million over 10 years to cover loan payments for the city's portion of the project, a 780-space parking garage that will form the foundation for the rest of the development.

Ash Brokerage plans an eight-story, 95,000-square-foot, $20 million headquarters building on the block bounded by Harrison, Wayne, Webster and Berry streets downtown. The company will move its 200 employees to the new building and add 115 more.

Also in the project is a $32 million residential package of 100 townhomes, apartments and condos by Hanning & Bean Enterprises. Both projects will sit on top of a city-owned 780-space parking garage, which will be surrounded by street-level retail.

John Urbahns, the city's director of community development, asked the board to make the loan payments for the first 10 years of an expected 15-year bond. After that, officials have said, the property taxes generated by the development will make the payments.

The CIB collects some state income and sales taxes from IPFW, Grand Wayne Center, Memorial Coliseum and the Holiday Inn near the Coliseum, but most of its funding comes from county food and beverage tax money left over after Coliseum debt payments are made.

The board is expected to accumulate up to $85 million over the next 17 years, with the money earmarked for large, capital projects that attract high-wage jobs.

The CIB currently has about $7.8 million on hand, though not all of that is immediately available.

Member Ben Eisbart said the project is exactly the type the board has been looking for.

"We've been looking for a transformational opportunity, and I believe we're about to be transformed," Eisbart said.

Board chair Nancy Jordan said member Mike Packnett was unable to attend the meeting but wanted it to be known he fully supported the measure. Member Gil Haynie joined the meeting by speaker phone and so was unable to vote, but supported it, as well.

"The unanimous support shows this project fits exactly within the mission of the Capital Improvements Board," Jordan said.

On Monday, the Fort Wayne Redevelopment Commission approved spending $4.3 million to purchase the property needed for the land. Next, officials will ask the City Council to approve spending up to $2 million from the Legacy Fund for site preparations, which includes demolition of the existing buildings.

Officials hope to begin site preparations in March so construction can begin in April.