KEVIN LEININGER: ‘Failure’ of one industrial dream could help New Haven land another one

New Haven Mayor Terry McDonald inspects the Casad Depot. His plan to buy the 268-acre site failed but plans for a 175-acre industrial park could ease the sting. (News-Sentinel.com file photo by Kevin Leininger of N ews-Sentinel.com)
The proposed industrial site is owned by the Lomont family and is located near U.S. 30 and Doyle Road. (Courtesy image)
The former Casad Depot has a rail spur but many of its buildings are in very poor shape. (News-Sentinel file photo)
Elissa McGauley
Kevin Leininger

It’s been said that when life closes one door, it often opens another. That seems to be the case with New Haven’s longstanding and often-frustrating effort to boost its economy by converting the former Casad Depot into an industrial park.

For years Mayor Terry McDonald worked to buy the dormant 258-acre site just of town but, as I first reported in May, that plan was dashed when the U.S, General Services Administration put a $2.3 million price tag on the property. That’s nearly $1 million more than had been estimated just last year, and with a clean-up bill McDonald said could reach $6 million, the city backed off even though the Fort Wayne-Allen County Capital Improvement Board had agreed to give New Haven up to $1 million for the Casad project.

Door closed.

But thanks to the Lomont family — and maybe that same $1 million — New Haven sees an opening to accomplish much the same goal, probably at much less cost.

On Sept. 11 New Haven City Council will consider the family’s request to annex about 175 acres, a move McDonald said is necessary to begin the process of converting the farmland near U.S. 30 and Doyle Road into a shovel-ready site that could accommodate multiple tenants and hundreds of jobs.

“We need to annex it to provide utilities,” McDonald said, noting the owners approached New Haven about the possibility of working together to improve the property and boost the local economy. New Haven does not plan to buy the property, McDonald said, but annexation would give New Haven the ability to provide planning services and economic incentives to prospective tenants.

Sewer and water lines already run near Doyle Road, but McDonald has asked the CIB for permission to use its $1 million to extend utilities and other infrastructure to the Lomont property — a request CIB members this week indicated they are willing to consider. The CIB approved the $1 million grant but said the money could be forfeited if a deal was not reached within 18 months. That deadline has come and gone.

Strictly speaking, this project is not an alternative to New Haven’s plans for Casad. Both McDonald and Director of Planning Brian Yoh said the city would have pursued the Lomonts” vision even if the depot deal had not collapsed. But that $1 million from the CIB can only be spent once, and had it been used for Casad it would not be available now. Nor does New Haven have to worry about removing deteriorating and obsolete World War II-era buildings or traces of materials stored at Casad over the years, including talc, cadmium and 614 tons of potentially hazardous mercury that were removed not long before the depot closed in 2011.

“This (Lomont) property has the potential for a completely different product than Casad,” Yoh said. “Casad has rail capability and the opportunity to support large rail-dependent operations. The Lomont property has the possibility of being a nice manufacturing campus similar to Park 30 (on US 30) in Columbia City.” Should the project proceed, he added, a plan will be developed to determine the site’s infrastructure needs and the cost of providing them.

Although New Haven already has the Wayne Haven park on Indiana 930, few lots are left and most are relatively small, McDonald. The expansive Lomont property gives the city a chance to start from scratch, and Yoh said he has already spoken to industrial realtors about possibilities there.

“It’s a great location,” McDonald said, noting its proximity to I-469, U.S. 24 and U.S. 30, which he said is slated for improvement by the Indiana Department of Transportation.

Back in May, McDonald told me at least two builders had expressed interest in erecting “spec” buildings in New Haven that could be completed by tenants needing to expand or move quickly, and Greater Fort Wayne Inc.’s vice president of economic development, John Urbahns, said there was a need for development-ready sites in land-rich eastern Allen County. That’s still the case, according to Allen County Director of Redevelopment Elissa McGauley.

The county previously owned land near New Haven but that is now mostly been developed, and “we’ve been looking in that area for other suitable sites,” McGauley said, noting the county might be able to provide some financial assistance should New Haven seek it.

In the meantime, Casad is on the auction block. But New Haven isn’t about to get into a bidding war. “The taxpayers already paid for it. Why should we pay $2.3 million?” he asked back in May. A good question, and with another opportunity knocking the CIB should be willing to help New Haven open the door.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at kleininger@news-sentinel.com or call him at 461-8355.

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