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KEVIN LEININGER: County looks to recoup its loss; one project moves to new phase as another regroups

Allen County paid nearly $207,000 for Ellen Durnell's house at 10209 Coverdale Road after improvements to the road created drainage problems. The problems are fixed, and now the county wants to sell the property for at least $225,000. (News-Sentinel file photo by Kevin Leininger)
Kevin Leininger

Like most journalists, I’m always on the lookout for examples of government goofs or waste. In this case, however, one such story seems poised for a happy ending for everybody involved — even the taxpayers.

As I reported in April 2018, the Allen County Commissioners paid Ellen Durnell nearly $207,000 for her six-acre property at 10209 Coverdale Road after the county’s $2.7 million reconstruction of the road three years earlier created severe drainage problems.

“The water was coming through like rapids. So I said, ‘Fix it or buy my house,’ ” she told me last year.

The county did the honorable thing and bought Durnell’s house so she wouldn’t have to endure a flooded basement and overflowing pond any longer than necessary. Since then, however, the drainage problems have been fixed and the house has been thoroughly cleaned — allowing the County Commissioners to put the property up for sale.

Asking price: $225,000, or about $18,000 more than the county paid Durnell, who last year correctly predicted that “I have no doubt the county will sell the property for more than I got.”

“We want to get the taxpayer’s money back,” Commissioner Rich Beck said. The drainage repairs and cleaning, however, appear to have cost considerably more than $18,000. Then again, that $225,000 is the minimum bid; the county is hoping for more.

Ideally, Durnell would not have had to move unless she wanted to. But to its credit the county owned up to its mistake and now, thanks to what Beck described as considerable interest in the property, may even come out ahead. Taxpayers no doubt wish for more such outcomes, at all levels of government.

In praise of a new phase

The 300 people who showed up Thursday afternoon for the unveiling of phases two and three of riverfront development reflected the community’s undeniable enthusiasm for Phase 1 — Promenade Park — and its anticipation of even more excitement to come.

The proposals for such additional public spaces as another boat dock, wetland path, terraced lawn with amphitheater, lookout tower and pedestrian bridge connecting the north and south sides of the St. Marys River whetted the appetite, but in the end phases two and tree will and should be judged on the basis of things that didn’t show up in the pretty pictures displayed at the Park Foundation Pavilion: the restaurants, shops, housing and other private developments that will distinguish the coming phases from Promenade Park.

To be sure, the redeveloped riverfront has already attracted private investment, most recently in the form of two mixed-use projects by Indianapolis-based Barrett & Stokely totaling about $150 million. But as the designs displayed Thursday made clear, several other sites on both banks of the St. Marys River, many of them the by the city, are earmarked for private development as well.

When that may happen is unclear, according to city Redevelopment Director Nancy Townsend. As was made clear Thursday, permits still need to be acquired, infrastructure built and zoning approved. Costs for that public infrastructure must be determined and funding found. All that and more will probably need to happen before the city begins the time-consuming process of screening developers and proposals.

As I reported in July, the train-themed Headwaters Junction will not be considered for the 29-acre “North River” site the city bought for $4.63 million in 2017 because city officials believe it would be incompatible with housing and other potential developments. But officials say they are working to find a suitable location for the theme park and say other potential developers have also expressed interest in locating near the river.

It takes far more than pictures and dreams to make things happen, but the riverfront’s transition from being just another (if spectacular) downtown park into something even grander is at underway at last. Good.

Try, try again

In June I reported that my church, Zion Lutheran, and my wife’s church, St. Peter’s Catholic, were working with Cincinnati-based Model Group to develop a 48,000-square-foot residential and commercial project at Hanna and Buchanan streets in the Renaissance Pointe area the congregations had been working to redevelop since 1997.

Unfortunately, the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority denied our application for a tax credit last month, putting the project on hold. But we’re not giving up and will continue to pursue this or a similar project and still hope to bring a grocery store to the underserved area.

But there is at least one silver lining in the cloud: Thanks to the city, a long-vacant building on the site has been removed. Hopefully a replacement will come soon.

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.