City hires retail recruitment firm to attract business to south side

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) A contractor has been hired to attract retail development to the city’s southern half, a longtime difficult task.

Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry on Wednesday announced the city has hired Indigo Centers to recruit commercial business to the south side. The Birmingham, Michigan-based retail real estate firm specializes in consulting, leasing, brokerage, investment sales, property management and retail recruitment, the city said.

Indigo’s goal will be to create a targeted list of retailers and developers for the city to recruit, a list built out of a study last year conducted by Gibbs Planning Group.

That study found there are opportunities for commercial growth on the south side of the city, including as many as 120 new retail shops and restaurants in the areas roughly bounded by downtown to the north, Lower Huntington and Tillman roads on the south, east Hessen Cassel Road, and the St. Marys River and Waynedale to the west.

The city has struggled, though, to meet that apparent potential.

In May, a 15 Finds Out report found that while vast improvements to the area like street and sidewalk improvements, commercial office development and dozens of new homes have been made, many said crime in the area has deterred growth. Empty lots line the Pontiac Street Corridor, another lot sits empty near Southtown Centre, K-Mart has closed and the former police department headquarters along Creighton Street is abandoned and overgrown.

Indigo has its work cut out for it.

That study last year recommended the city hire a business retail recruitment specialist, and in Indigo, Henry said he hopes growth is realized.

“We remain committed to increasing economic development in south Fort Wayne,” said Henry. “We known there are opportunities for growth, and I’m looking forward to positive outcomes as we continue to work together to provide needed retail options to residents and move our city forward in the right direction.”

To the mayor’s knowledge, the city hasn’t ever brought in a full-time contractor to market a segment of the city.

“When you know the potential is there, that becomes a necessity,” said Mayor Henry, “We don’t have staff dedicated full-time to market south, southeast Fort Wayne. That’s why he [Indigo Centers President] and his staff are being brought into our city, to provide that type of service. We know we have the critical mass, we know we have a disposable income. It’s just a matter of letting the potential retailers and those in the hospitality business know that.”

The city’s Community Development Division will pay Indigo $5,000 per month for seven months, with the possibility of a contract extension through the end of 2016, the city said. The contract will be paid out of community economic development income tax dollars.

Jeffrey W. Higgins, founder and president of Indigo, touted his company’s experience of six years in accepting the task.

“Retail recruitment is a specialized field – one that is difficult to navigate without experience,” said Higgins. “We are excited to put our expertise and contacts to use on behalf of Fort Wayne’s south side business community.”

Higgins said the key is completing a market study, the analysis process and sharing the information with the community. He said perception is one of the hurdles, which takes time.

“There’s a great head start here and I think what you’re up against is perception locally and perception nationally. It’s similar to Detroit where there’s a perception that, well if there’s not the income there and some other opportunities, but I think when you look at the market as a whole with the existing shopping that’s here, it’s very strong and I think it’s just a matter of getting the word out,” Higgins said.

Indigo Centers plans to market south Fort Wayne in the second largest shopping center convention in New York on December 7-8, hosted by International Council of Shopping Centers. Then, it’ll market the sector during the council’s convention in Las Vegas in May. With 35,000 to 40,000 retailers expected to attend, it’s the largest convention in the world. Higgins said his hope, by then, is for his team and the city to have built up to the process.

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