Architects today unveiled the latest renderings and the most complete plans thus far for a new downtown event center just west of the Grand Wayne Center.
Along with the new views and more detailed plans came the new cost estimate: $104.9 million. That price includes an allowance for rising construction costs, but it doesn’t include land acquisition.
As configured now, the arena would include seating for 5,986 for concerts or 5,646 for basketball, according to the presentation before the Allen County Fort Wayne Capital Improvement Board.
Much of the planning for the facility is wrapped around the Mad Ants basketball team being the anchor tenant of the facility, but Capital Improvement Board member Steve Brody emphasized that no agreement is in place with the Mad Ants for the team to occupy the facility. Brody said the next step in the process is forwarding the proposal to the city of Fort Wayne and to Allen County.
Consultants are still working on an assessment of the Capital Improvement Board’s capacity as a funding source for a downtown event center, Brody said. More than a year ago, The News-Sentinel obtained a “confidential and deliberative” study commissioned by Greater Fort Wayne Inc. that said the community could support up to $350 million in an additional bonding. That study cited several sources that could be used to repay bonds sold to fund economic development projects, including local income taxes, local restaurant and hotel taxes, tax increment financing districts, county professional sports and convention development areas, community revitalization enhancement districts and the city's Legacy fund.
CIB members took no direct action on the latest and most detailed envisioning of what a downtown arena or event center would be. That board has taken the lead in overseeing design work on such a facility downtown. City and county government and Greater Fort Wayne Inc. also had representatives on a committee in charge of obtaining a design.
Seats in the facility would retractable, so that it could be configured for many uses. Sporting events have been a use central in the planning, from basketball to arena football or soccer. But it can be set up for a small center ring, for concerts or mixed martial arts fights, for example. Arranged for a trade show or exhibition hall, it could hold 140 standard 10-by-10 feet booths, said Donald R. Dethlefs, CEO of Sink Combs Dethlefs Architects, the Denver firm that led in the design. Architect Cory Miller of Elevatus Architecture in Fort Wayne represented local partners in the design during the presentation to the Capital Improvement Board.
Underground parking at the facility would provide 205-225 spaces; depending on which of several possible designs for parking is chosen, Dethlefs said.
Dethlefs said that the popularity of the concourse high above the diamond at Parkview Field inspired designers to plan the proposed stadium with a high concourse overlooking the event floor. An array of seating is available, from standard seating on the floor and in retractable rows of raised seating to suites and bistro tables. Thirty-six spaces are reserved for people in wheelchairs, with 36 spaces for people accompanying them, as required under the Americans with Disabilities Act, Dethlefs said.
The latest cost estimate broke the $100 million mark for the first time. That’s more than 50 percent more than the first cost estimates for a new arena downtown, estimates that began circulating more than a year.
“The price to me is not surprising, given the size and complexity of the project,” Brody said.
A joint statement from Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry and the Allen County Commissioners included no remarks on the price but thanked the CIB for its work in developing a design.
Mayor Tom Henry and Allen County Commissioners Linda Bloom, Therese Brown and Nelson Peters will work together to review the designs and cost estimates and develop the next steps in the process to determine if a downtown event center investment is in the best interest of the City of Fort Wayne and Allen County.
“We’re encouraged by the positive momentum and excitement being experienced in Fort Wayne and Allen County. We’re fortunate to live and work in a thriving community that is well-positioned as a point of destination in the Midwest,” said Henry in the news release.
“We are appreciative of the opportunity to partner with the City of Fort Wayne in reviewing any initiative that may enhance economic opportunity and the quality of life for the citizens of Allen County,” said Commissioner Nelson Peters.
Not everyone is persuaded. City Council member Russ Jehl, R-2nd, said, "My position remains the same, no matter how pretty the drawings are. The process to this point has been opaque and without public input, and the only way forward is through a public referendum. Without the blessing of the public, I will not support any tax increases or bonding for this project."