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KEVIN LEININGER: Hotel’s $2.5M upgrade provides ‘education’ about unforeseen opportunities

The Holiday Inn on Paul Shaffer Drive is getting a $2.5 million upgrade, and Focus Hospitality Vice President Robert Evans expects business to improve as a result -- which would mean more money for Purdue-Fort Wayne's foundation. (News-Sentinel.com photo by Kevin Leininger)
Kevin Leininger

A $2.5 million facelift is underway at the Holiday Inn at 4111 Paul Shaffer Drive, and thanks to an obscure 1959 deal the mostly cosmetic upgrades will be good not only for the 151-room hotel near Purdue-Fort Wayne and the Memorial Coliseum but for the university as well.

Whether it’s good news for Allen County government is a matter of perspective.

The school that would open as Indiana-Purdue University in 1964 was still just a dream when county officials agreed to lease 3.5 acres to the west of the campus to the IPFW Foundation for $1 per year for 100 years, so long as the property was used for educational purposes. That stipulation prevented a 2002 attempt by the university to lure Wal-Mart to the site, but since the Holiday Inn opened in 2008 its operations have generated about $900,000 for a foundation that as of 2016 listed more than $17 million in assets.

And with the lease requiring the hotel to pay 2 percent of its total revenues, Focus Hospitality Vice President of Operations Robert Evans expects the foundation to do even better in the years to come.

“Thanks to the renovations, an uptick in occupancy and the increase in the innkeepers tax (the recent 1 percent hike is expected to provide Visit Fort Wayne an additional $750,000 per year for tourism marketing), business should increase. I believe in keeping things in like-new condition,” said Evans, who also expects the rate for renovated rooms and other spaces to increase. Improvements to rooms, hallways, meeting rooms and other public spaces will include new paint, fixtures, furnishings, carpet and more.

The foundation’s federal tax documents list its mission as providing “support for (the university) with program development, scholarships and campus development.” But is a hotel really “educational”?

In this case, as it turns out, the answer is “yes.”

In order to comply with the lease, Focus Hospitality agreed to design the hotel with a classroom of at least 1,000 square feet, and the facility provides students with internships and academic and practical training in nutrition, culinary arts, hotel management and related fields.

In 1959, before the arrival of IPFW, Glenbrook Square and most of the development that now lines Coliseum Boulevard, county officials may not have anticipated their land could ever have such commercial potential. And, to be fair, a strong university benefits the entire area, just as the taxes generated by the hotel benefit the county and other local units of government.

But the IPFW foundation got a great deal by any standard, paying the county $100 in exchange for a lease that in its first decade has returned $1 million or so — with four more decades still to go. Thanks to inflation and the factors Evans noted, the foundation’s take should only increase in the years to come.

Coliseum General Manager Randy Brown said he would like to see another hotel built nearby, and Evans said his company is interested in such a project, too. But if it happens, he said, it could be across the street on the Coliseum’s county-owned parking lot — meaning the IPFW Foundation wouldn’t get a percentage.

County government, as I have noted, is not hurting for cash. Still, if I were a county official, I’d already be thinking about how to get a bigger piece of the pie when the lease with the university comes up for renewal in 40 years or so.

Getting it straight

In my Saturday update on the city’s legal challenge against the swingers club, I reported that Thomas Lindenberg is an officer of the Champagne Club. Lindenberg says he is not an officer, but county real estate records do list him as owner of the property at 2710 Nuttman Ave.

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.