KEVIN LEININGER: Hall’s new downtown restaurant hits underground snag, but familiar face could mean rebirth for Green Frog

The former Cambray Building was moved from its original location to save it from demolition, and a pending deal apparently will allow it to become a new Hall's Restaurant at Superior and Harrison streets. (News-Sentinel.com file photo by Kevin Leininger)
Cindy Henry, Fort Wayne's first lady, sold the Green Frog in 2014 but could soon be behind the bar again. (News-Sentinel.com file photo)
The Green Frog, 820 Spring St., closed Labor Day weekend. (News-Sentinel photo by Kevin Leininger)
Kevin Leininger

I know you read this column for reactionary right-wing propaganda, not restaurant news. Still, there are some interesting developments to report concerning two high-profile eateries: the Green Frog, which recently closed but could resurface with a familiar face behind the bar, and a new downtown Hall’s hasn’t even opened yet despite more than its share of notoriety.

It’s been nearly nine months since the vacant 122-year-old Cambray Building was moved across the street from its original location at 312 S. Harrison St. to make way for the city’s riverfront redevelopment project. The building had been slated for demolition but was instead acquired by the local Hall’s restaurant chain, which planned to convert the old brick structure into an upscale restaurant and bar after relocating it to a former county parking lot at Superior and Harrison streets.

But even though a baby is born in nine months, the gestation period for the Halls’ project has turned out to be longer still — longer than expected, in fact — in part because of utility lines that run beneath the former county parking lot at Superior and Main.

The building’s current temporary location is slated to be the site of the $62 million “Riverview” housing, shopping and parking project, and the Halls were supposed to clear the space by Aug. 30. That deadline obviously has come and gone, and although there is still some flexibility — the Continental Property Group isn’t ready to break ground yet — city Redevelopment Director Nancy Townsend said the Halls eventually could be ordered to demolish the building if nothing changes.

Moving all the underground lines could cost as much as $95,000, leading to the obvious question: Who should pay? As I noted, the lot had been owned by the county but was given to the city in exchange for spaces in the parking garage at the Rousseau Center. Should government bear the expense — or the private business that would profit from the development?

“We’ve done all we can do,” County Commissioner Nelson Peters said. “(The Halls) got the land for free. It’s between them and the city now.”

“We look forward to continuing to work with the Halls to make their project a reality,” Townsend said.

Let’s hope so. It would be a shame to lose the building now after so much energy and money — but perhaps too little homework on somebody’s part — was invested to get the project to this point.

As for the Green Frog at 820 Spring St., it was abruptly closed over the Labor Day weekend by Matt and Carrie Billings, who bought the neighborhood bar from Cindy Henry, wife of Mayor Tom Henry, in 2014. According to the Allen County Treasurer’s office, a $1,570 property tax bill due in May still has not been paid — which may or may not reflect the reason for the bar’s demise.

I’ve been told by “reliable sources,” however, that the closure will be only temporary and that Henry is preparing a return.

“I can’t talk about it. (The property) isn’t mine yet,” she told me — which makes the rebirth of the Green Frog sound like a matter of when, not if. As a long-time anchor in the Wells Street-Spring Street neighborhood, that would be welcome news indeed.

Public business?

Speaking of downtown and the Continental Property Group, the Minnesota firm was the only developer to meet last month’s deadline for proposals for the so-called “north river” property, the 29-acre former industrial site the city bought last year for $4.6 million. As I’ve previously reported, there’s reason to believe Continental’s plan includes the Headwaters Junction railroad-themed attraction, housing and a scaled-down version of the long-debated downtown arena/event center.

I’d like to tell you for certain what Continental wants to do with public land and public dollars, but I can’t. The city won’t release its proposal, claiming the document is exempt from disclosure laws because it is “deliberative.” It’s the only proposal on the table; is there really need for such secrecy?

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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