City is seeking developer for one of Fort Wayne’s most distinctive historic homes

Several potential buyers are interested in this long-vacant city-owned home at 801 W. Berry St. Minimum bid: $120,000. (File photo by Kevin Leininger of The
. . . but with the exception of the staircase, few original interior features remain. (Courtesy photo)
West Berry Street looking west, with the house at 801 on the corner. (Image courtesy city of Fort Wayne)

In what could turn out to be a fortunate failure, the city is seeking development proposals for one of the largest, most distinctive and potentially valuable homes in the historic West Central Neighborhood.

With the help of a $402,000 federal grant, the Housing and Neighborhood Services board bought eight blighted homes near downtown in 2014, and all but one were purchased and improved: the Victorian structure at 801 W. Berry St. that has seen many different uses in its 124 years and was in such bad shape no developer was interested, according to city spokeswoman Mary Tyndall.

What a difference four years can make.

Now, thanks to downtown redevelopment and the West Central real estate boom it helped create, several potential commercial and residential developers have expressed interest and the city will seek proposals before selecting the idea that will put the property to its “highest and best use,” Tyndall said.

Built in 1884 and designed by the then-prominent local architectural firm of Wing & Mahurin, the 8,994-square-foot building’s exterior retains many of its original ornate features despite the addition of an anachronistic masonry garage decades ago during its use as a funeral home. But with the exception of the staircase, little of the original interior remains, in part because what was once the home of late-1890s Sentinel publisher Edward A.K. Hackett was later subdivided into several apartments.

“It’s been pretty much gutted inside,” said Kelly Lundberg, deputy HANDS director. “But the staircase is amazing.”

Some have expressed interest in restoring the home to multi-family use, but it could also be converted back into a single-family home or as a “mixed-use” project containing both commercial and residential tenants, HANDS Administrator John Stineberg said. A minimum bid of $120,000 will be required, but Tyndall said price alone will not determine the next owner.

West Central’s neighborhood covenants do not currently allow commercial uses, but that may be open to negotiation and the city will also work with the West Central neighborhood to select the best possible fit, Tyndall said. The city will also want to make sure the bidders have the financial ability to complete the project, since few if any city incentives will be available.

If the use selected is not compatible with the guidelines of the grant used to buy the property, the city will have to return about $100,000 to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Tyndall said. Because the neighborhood is a designated local historic district, any external changes will have to be approved by the city’s Historic Preservation Commission.