Parking crunch in downtown Fort Wayne will get a $6 million fix, but more will be needed

The Civic Center Parking Garage will get two additional floors at a cost of about $7 million. (File photo by Kevin Leininger of
Nancy Townsend

The city is seeking the Capital Improvement Board’s help on a $6 million project expected to provide short-term relief to a growing downtown parking problem.

As The News-Sentinel first reported earlier this month, the city plans to add two floors and about 225 spaces to its Civic Center parking garage adjacent to the Hilton Hotel and Indiana Michigan Power Center, and Redevelopment Director Nancy Townsend on Thursday asked the CIB for financial support for a project expected to begin withing months and take about 18 months to complete.

A speedy timetable is essential, Townsend said, because “parking is becoming a critical issue downtown.” Expansion of the city-owned 1,000-space Civic Center garage, built in two phases about 30 years ago, is the quickest and most economical way to add a lot of parking, and “This is a good opportunity to start to fill the gap,” Townsend said.

The CIB, which oversees revenues generated by the county’s food and beverage tax, expressed a willingness to help but no specific commitment was asked or given Thursday.

The parking shortage was caused in part by the recent arrival of about 400 SIRVA employees in the Indiana Michigan tower, complicating parking needs of the nearby Grand Wayne Center, Embassy Theatre and other facilities. As the News-Sentinel reported earlier this month, the city is helping fund a $98,000 study by Structurepoint that will assess long-term parking needs and suggest ways to address them.

“But you don’t need a study to show we need more parking in that immediate area,” said Townsend, who could request a specific amount from the board next month.

Several new parking facilities are already on the drawing board. But the 1,000-space facility that will be part of the recently announced $61.7 million “Riverview” mixed-use project is years and blocks away from the Grand Wayne Center. Owners of the Fifth Third Metro Center at 202 W. Berry St. have talked about building a 400-space garage and a garage is expected to be included should Ruoff Home Mortgage build a new $37 million headquarters at Jefferson Boulevard and Ewing Street. But both those projects, if they happen at all, will also not be close enough to offer enclosed access to the Grand Wayne.

In other business Thursday, the board made it clear it wants the $2 million loan it recently approved toward environmental remediation of the proposed Electric Works site to be used for actual clean up, not to pay consultants. Developers in the project at the former General Electric campus had asked permission to use up to $1.5 million for “soft costs,” but the board showed no interest in that.

“$1.5 million is crazy,” board member Tim Pape said. The Allen County Commissioners, who have pledged $1 million to the clean up, also do not want to pay soft costs, the board said.

In addition, board members agreed they want to see a professional assessment of the project’s development plan in order to make certain their investment and other proposed public funds will be well spent and as protected as possible. The board will seek local and national analysts and may be willing to cover the costs.

“We learned from our experience with the downtown arena,” board member Ben Eisbart said. “We spent $500,000 and then did a feasibility study.”

On the basis of that $49,000 study by Utah-based Victus Advisors, Mayor Tom Henry announced in December the $105 million project would be indefinitely delayed.