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KEVIN LEININGER: Tax district changes could help fund project near Parkview Field, other downtown improvements

The proposed expansion of a special taxing district could help pay for a "mixed use" project on this parking lot south of Parkview Field. (News-Sentinel.com photo by Kevin Leininger)
As part of the plan to upgrade the city's arts campus, the Arts United Center would receive a new wing that will include a cafe, performance venue, classrooms, offices and other features. Revenues from improvements in the area could help pay for some of the needed infrastructure. (Courtesy image)
Kevin Leininger

The proposed expansion of two special taxing districts could help pay for millions of dollars in downtown improvements — including a “mixed use” project near Parkview Field.

They’re called “tax increment financing” areas, or TIFs, and by capturing taxes generated by improvements they can pay for infrastructure and other mostly public upgrades within the district. The Civic Center Renewal Area dates back to 1977 and covers much of central downtown; the Jefferson-Illinois Road area was created in 1992 and extends from the Jefferson Pointe shopping center downtown to Parkview Field. But the city’s proposed addition of 4.5 acres to the Jefferson TIF and 28.2 acres to the Civic Center TIF could do more than generate cash: It could help shape downtown development for years to come.

With the need for additional downtown parking well established, the Fort Wayne Redevelopment Commission’s proposed amendment to the Jefferson-Illinois TIF suggests a parking garage on the city-owned “silver” lot south of Parkview Field “would optimally be constructed as part of a mixed-use project or constructed in a way that commercial, residential or other uses could be integrated in the future.”

The amendment would incorporate the 0.73-acre lot at Jefferson Boulevard and Ewing Street eyed for a new $36 million Ruoff Home Mortgage headquarters, which will also include a parking garage. Although TIFs have been used to pay for sidewalks, lights, streets and other infrastructure, the city has on occasion also used them to subsidize parking structures, such as adjacent to the new Ash Brokerage headquarters and the proposed mixed-use project at Superior and Harrison streets.

As the former site of an auto-repair shop, the city notes, the city-owned Ash site may require some environmental remediation — concern also expressed in the city’s plan for the Civic Center TIF expansion, which includes Freimann Square, the proposed Arts United campus and the vacant lot at Superior and North Clinton recently identified as the site of a commercial-residential project by Indianapolis-based Barrett & Stokely that will include — you guessed it — a parking garage of up to 700 spaces.

Hall’s Gas House restaurant decades ago really did produce coal gas, and remnants in the soil and nearby St. Marys River have been the focus of several clean-ups already, mostly at NIPSCO’s expense. More remediation of the proposed redevelopment site may be needed, however, and the city’s plan anticipates the parking component of the project could cost up to $25 million.

Would TIF revenues help pay for clean up at either site? Additional parking? That’s unclear, city spokeswoman Mary Tyndall said. No additional projects have been announced, making it difficult if not impossible to estimate how much tax revenue any improvements might generate.

But the two TIF proposals do offer cost specifics on work needed to prepare various sites for redevelopment.

The cost of environmental work and parking at the Ash site is unknown, but preparing the property Ash site would cost an estimated $890,000, with another $330,000 needed streetscape improvements. The parking structure on the Silver Lot would cost about $30,000 per space, with $150,000 needed to relocate utilities, up to $250,000 for stormwater improvements and about $250,000 per block for streetscape.

The Civic Center TIF plan, meanwhile, anticipates public infrastructure that includes not only up to $25 million for parking but also $1.2 million for streetscape at Clinton and Superior; $400,000 to redesign Superior and $100,000 for improvements to the adjacent Headwaters Park. Another $981,000 in water improvements and up to $831,000 in sewer and stormwater upgrades are also possible.

Other projects are contemplated, but costs are unknown. Those include screening and restoration of the railroad overpass that runs through downtown and connectivity improvements between Freimann Square and the soon-to-reopen Columbia Street Landing. Significantly, the plan also anticipates “public improvements that will facilitate implementation of the Arts Campus master plan.” As I first reported last year, Arts United is planning a multimillion-dollar upgrade of the area near the Museum of Art, which could include the expansion of the Arts United Center into Freimann Square.

At this point there are more questions than answers, obviously, and TIFs have their critics. But if the projects don’t happen the extra revenue won’t be generated anyway, so there’s no reason why the Redevelopment Commission shouldn’t at least agree to the expansions, in hope millions of dollars of private investment will also follow.

That could happen Monday, Oct. 14, when the Commission votes after holding public hearings on both amendments at 4 p.m. in Room 030 of Citizens Square.

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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