Businesses in space of projected arena left guessing

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE)  One day after a study committee recommended that the city build a downtown arena, businesses in and near the space where the arena would likely go are now questioning how they’ll be impacted.

NewsChannel 15 spoke to several people about the arena. Some are all for it, others said the money could be spent more wisely and many don’t have a strong opinion. The impacted businesses, however, said they’re not sure how they should feel because they don’t have much information.

“Everybody is asking us. Anybody who comes here to use the library, ‘well, what’s going to happen with this?’ We really don’t know. There’s not anything we can say officially because we’ve never been contacted officially,” Cheryl Ferverda said, Communication and Development Manager of Allen County Public Library. “Not any person on our staff, not any board member has been officially contacted, given any facts, figures, information, other than what WANE-TV told us.”

When the Allen County Public Library expanded in 2007, it gained access of the parking lot across the street to accommodate all of its visitors. Now that lot is a part of the designated area for the new arena. The library also has an underground parking garage and a smaller side lot with limited spaces.

“Even in the combination of the garage and that small parking lot, it’s not enough for the number of people we have. Plus, that parking lot also serves the Grand Wayne Center,” Ferverda said. “It isn’t that we’re adverse to sharing things, but when you don’t know what that means, there’s a big difference between sharing two spaces and 100 spaces. So, I don’t know, I don’t have any real options at this point because we don’t know.”

The parking lot is next to King Gyros, Rally’s and Taco Bell, all taking up the space where the arena would go.

Down the street, The Embassy Theatre said it wants to have a hand in the process and answering these unknowns like how programming will be affected.

Kelly Updike, Executive Director of the Embassy Theatre released the following statement to NewsChannel 15:

“The Embassy supports downtown development. Many years ago, the Embassy was the only bright light downtown. And the Embassy’s current renovations were spurred forward due to Parkview Field and Harrison Square development.

There are a lot of questions still to be answered. These include programming and we specifically want to be involved in this area. We have a lot of experience with this industry and we are successful in it.

Entertainment comes to a venue because of the business deal. To make money. The Embassy is a self-sustaining nonprofit and subsidized venues provide an uneven playing field for us. We can’t run a deficit. Subsidized venues are often offering no-rent deals or using highest-bidder strategies to buy the acts. We are constantly figuring out ways to compete and, as a national venue, we remain confident in our ability to do so successfully.

The Embassy is requesting that we continue to participate in the process moving forward. We can bring a lot of creativity to the table.”

Just north, Randy Brown, General Manager of the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum said other new venues, in places like Evansville and Bloomington, Illinois are losing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“When you look at the coliseum, we buck that trend,” Brown said. “The answer to that is volume.”

However, according to Brown, between 40 and 50 percent of events in the new arena will come from the Memorial Coliseum. Brown is hopeful that a safety net likely a funding source will help.

“It’s not about dividing the events up between the three venues. That wouldn’t be perceived as a win. So, if we can make sure that there’s a mechanism so that we’ve all successful together, that’s the best case scenario,” Brown said. “If it’s a critical mass for downtown, we understand that. But we also feel strongly that there has to be a safety net so that the new arena can financially be successful together and that’s really the key here.”

NewChannel 15 reached out to King Gyros, Rally’s and Taco Bell about the potential move. No one has commented. A spokesperson for the city said since leaders just recently received the recommendations Monday, it’s too soon to tell how businesses will be impacted.

Mayor Tom Henry and his staff will review the committee’s recommendations and meet with Allen County Commissioners. The design process will then move forward, along with selecting a firm and funding sources in the coming weeks. Once that’s complete, the process of determining land acquisition, financial resources and budgets, architectural work, leadership and oversight structure, and a detailed timeline could begin.


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