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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.

Mixed signals on historic Bowser buildings' future?

Construction site barriers surround part of the historic Bowser Pump buildings in the 1300 block of East Creighton Avenue. Demolition of the buildings will begin soon, the city said Thursday. (By Kevin Kilbane of The News-Sentinel)
Construction site barriers surround part of the historic Bowser Pump buildings in the 1300 block of East Creighton Avenue. Demolition of the buildings will begin soon, the city said Thursday. (By Kevin Kilbane of The News-Sentinel)
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press

Demolition barricades go up, but renovation advocates get to tour buildings, make their case Friday.

Thursday, March 16, 2017 04:04 pm
The city of Fort Wayne sent out a news release Thursday morning saying construction barriers were being installed that day around the historic former Bowser Pump company buildings at 1302 E. Creighton Ave. in preparation for demolition work. But the city also will allow neighborhood leaders fighting to save the building and representatives from the Indiana Landmarks historic preservation organization to tour the buildings at 10 a.m. Friday and to meet with Mayor Tom Henry about them at 11 a.m.

"We are cautiously optimistic," said Paul Hayden, director of Indiana Landmarks' northeast field office in Wabash. He will be accompanied by his boss, Todd Zeiger, director of the organization's northern regional office in South Bend.

Henry agreed to the building tour and meeting as a courtesy to City Councilman Glynn Hines, D-6th District, who represents southeast Fort Wayne and who requested the tour and meeting, said Mary Tyndall, public information officer for the city's Community Development division.

However, both Hayden and Donita Mudd, a southeast Fort Wayne resident leading neighborhood efforts to save the buildings, were surprised to learn that construction barriers were being installed today around the buildings.

Mudd believes the buildings can be adapted and re-used for offices, a training center for advanced manufacturing or apprenticeship jobs, and as a business incubator site.

"I drove around the building yesterday and not one single window is broken out of the (office) building, and that shows the building is respected in the community," she said.

The building served as corporate headquarters for gas pump maker S.F. Bowser, whose factory behind the building closed in 1961 and was destroyed in a 1997 fire, the city said. Dale McMillen Sr., bought the surviving buildings in 1965 and leased them to Phelps Dodge for about 30 years and then to the Fort Wayne Police Department until 2012. 

Demolition was proposed as early as 2013, Tyndall said. In the past five years, the city "has spoken with a handful of respected developers who have not found it feasible to rehabilitate the structure; it is simply too costly."

A 2013 engineering report said the main building had deteriorated significantly and that it would need new heating, cooling, plumbing and electrical systems, as well as asbestos abatement and changes to make it more accessible for people with disabilities, she said.

"I don't buy that," Mudd said of the negative assessment of the buildings.

She also disagrees with the city's plan to use federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) money to tear down buildings owned by a private owner, the McMillen Foundation. Mudd said the federal funds total about $530,000. 

"Basically, southeast Fort Wayne gets a vacant lot for $530,000," she added.

CDBG and other U.S. Housing and Urban Development funds are supposed to be used to "to improve the quality of life for low- to moderate-income residents," it said on the city Community Development division's website, http://www.fwcommunitydevelopment.org.

If the McMillen Foundation paid for the demolition, it would have to spend funds it uses for programs such as the Wildcat Baseball League, Tyndall said.

The foundation requested the city demolish the buildings, the city's announcement said. Local company Martin is scheduled to salvage everything from office furniture to exterior bricks while demolishing the building, the announcement said. The salvage process, which would take six months to a year to complete, would lower the cost of demolition and greatly reduce waste sent to a landfill, the city's announcement said.

After demolition, the McMillen Foundation would donate the property to the YMCA of Greater Fort Wayne, which reportedly would use it for recreational activities based at its nearby Renaissance Pointe YMCA, the city said.

Hayden said he and Zeiger want to tour the buildings to see their condition and then share their expertise about possible renovation with the mayor. They have several developers in mind who may be interested in renovating them, if feasible.

Indiana Landmarks also may be willing to become a temporary caretaker owner of the Bowser property until a developer gets a redevelopment project and financing in place, Hayden said. That would require approval of the Indiana Landmarks board of directors.

The best outcome at Friday's meeting would be for city to ask how much time they need to get a redevelopment project started for the buildings, Hayden said.

"We'll take a swing at it," he said of the meeting, "and see what happens."

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