GFW Inc. supports city’s plan to buy North River land

The North River property, bounded by Clinton, Fourth and Harrison streets near downtown Fort Wayne, will be purchased by the city of Fort Wayne for future development. (Google Maps)

FORT WAYNE, Ind. — Greater Fort Wayne Inc. today urged Mayor Henry and City Council to work together to acquire the North River property, citing the land’s potential to become a community cornerstone.

“This is an opportunity to transform the North River property into a thriving community gateway,” said Eric Doden, CEO of Greater Fort Wayne Inc. “Conversations about this issue have been going on for more than a decade. It’s time for leaders to act—and close a deal that unleashes the property’s potential.”

Development of the North River property was discussed in the 2005 BlueprintPLUS action plan for the city’s downtown area. Other projects in the plan that have since been completed include Parkview Field, the Barr Street Market, increased downtown hotel capacity, and more. The plan, which included input from thousands of residents, widened the scope of downtown northward to include the North River property, and southward to include areas such as the Electric Works campus.

In 2007, the North River Now report, which also incorporated input from thousands of residents, strongly recommended the City acquire the land.

Ron Turpin, board chairman at Greater Fort Wayne Inc., noted that the project could mirror the City’s past successes in redeveloping properties in need of environmental remediation.

“We’ve seen success stories at Headwaters Park and at the Bowser Pump facility [now the site of the Renaissance Pointe YMCA],” Turpin said. “In both cases, City leaders turned dormant properties into assets for the community. Acquiring the North River property is an investment that will lead to jobs, private investment, and substantial new tax revenue for the City that should more than offset what the City is projecting as relatively low remediation costs.”

The North River property stretches across 29 acres just north of downtown Fort Wayne, bordered by Clinton, Fourth, and Harrison Streets. The land was last actively used in 2006.

The land has environmental contamination that needs to be cleaned up. Until the city reveals how much that will cost, it may be hard to get council’s approval on the purchase.

Turpin said GFW gave the city its full support to buy the North River property once they were told the cost was reasonable.

“With the assurances we’ve been given by the administration, they have done due diligence on the environmentals and that the environmental clean up will be minimal, that the cost of that will be in the hundreds of thousands and not millions of dollars,” he said.

City Councilman Michael Barranda (R-At Large) doesn’t like that the cost of the environmental clean up is being hidden. If the insurance company was paying for it, he said that would be one thing, but he can’t trust these hidden numbers if the taxpayers have to take care of the cost.

“Yes, it’s a matter of trusting the administration but the taxpayers also elected us and put their trust in us that we would do our homework,” he explained. “With the inability to do our homework I think it would be a violation of the taxpayers’ trust in us.”

Turpin said the opportunity to enhance downtown’s northern entrance is so enticing he’s willing to trust the city at its word.

“As you come in from the north, that North River property is the first thing that you see when you come downtown,” he said. “So right now you just have a barren piece of property there. Getting control of that property for long term development is critical for developing that piece of that gateway as you come in.”

Even with that, he understands city council’s hesitation but is challenging them.

“If this sale does not go through and approve by council by the end of this month, it’s dead,” he said. “It’s done. And so the opportunity to buy that land is gone at least for the time being. Is that a risk we’re willing to take? We believe it’s not. It is one of those risks that you do have to take as a leader for development of that property.”

Barranda said from what he’s gathering from the other councilman, they will not be voting approval for the purchase.

“It doesn’t sound like the mayor’s office is going to be more forthcoming with the environmental reports,” he said. “So absent that I don’t think it will pass.”

The city has until the end of the month to purchase the land from Calhoun Investments or the deal goes sour. Council will vote on the project Tuesday and again a week later.