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KEVIN LEININGER: Local purchase of Lincoln properties could continue downtown renaissance

An affiliate of Ambassador Enterprises of Fort Wayne bought this building at 1301 S. Harrison St. and other properties used by Lincoln Financial for a total of $22.75 million. (News-Sentinel.com file photo)
This building at 1300 S. Clinton St. was also part of the deal and could attract other tenants. (News-Sentinel file photo)
This is one of two projects planned along Superior Street by Barrett & Stokely of Indianapolis. (Courtesy image)
Land has been cleared along Main Street for construction of this mixed-use project by Ashberry Eight LLC. (Courtesy image)
Kevin Leininger

Friday’s announcement that Mayor Tom Henry will give Electric Works developers more time to land a crucial anchor tenant isn’t the only potentially Big News being made by downtown real estate, including the campus that was formerly the headquarters of the Lincoln Financial Group.

Abridge Pointe, an affiliate of Fort Wayne-based Ambassador Enterprises, which was founded by Daryle Doden in 2006 and bills itself as a “strategic investing firm,” in July paid $22.75 million for eight separate properties used but not owned by Lincoln, which was founded in Fort Wayne in 1905 and in 1998 announced plans to move its headquarters to Philadelphia. The properties include parking lots and three major structures: buildings at 1302 S. Harrison St. and 1300 S. Clinton St. and a parking garage at 111 W. Brackenridge St. The total annual property tax bill is about $658,000, according to county records.

Lincoln had not owned the properties since the 1980s, and they were last owned by the Trona Cogeneration Corp. of Delaware. At one time the company employed more than 3,300 people in Fort Wayne, and although spokesman Scott Sloat wouldn’t say how many remain here, he did say they won’t be affected by the sale to Ambassador.

“We have a lease through 2029, and we’ve been doing renovations,” he said. “In fact, we have 30 openings (in Fort Wayne).

Ambassador’s plans for the properties are in flux, but appear to bode well for the city. “As individual and organizational citizens of this region, we are vitally interested in the future of downtown Fort Wayne. We are committed to supporting development efforts that further adaptive reuse and focus on building thriving communities,” Ambassador spokesman Ringo Santiago said in a statement.

Rob Williamson of the Allen County Assessor’s commercial team said he understands that Lincoln is consolidating its employees in the 1920s-era 1301 S. Harrison building, with the newer, more-visible and perhaps more marketable building at 1300 S. Clinton becoming available for one or more other tenants. As of now about 135,000 square feet are available, Santiago said.

Much if this is speculative, of course, but the involvement of a Fort Wayne company with a track record of local commitment and success can only be good news for downtown. Will ambassador attract new jobs and still more investment and excitement downtown? Will some of those parking lots find higher and better uses as a result?

The answers may never fully compensate for the loss of Lincoln, but a more strategic use of its former property would at least be a fitting step in the right direction.

Cash for three new projects?

The city’s Redevelopment Commission will meet Feb. 10, and even if the Electric Works extension isn’t on the agenda, public subsidies for three other big downtown projects should be.

The commission will consider deals under which the city would support the projects by leasing space in their parking garages for up to 25 years. Two of the mixed-use projects have been proposed by Indianapolis-based Barrett & Stokely: The $89 million “Premier Riverfront” just east of Promenade Park and the $68 million “Lofts at Headwaters Park” planned for Superior and Clinton streets; the other is the five-story, 191,000-square foot development from Ashberry Eight LLC of Fort Wayne, for which land was recently cleared near Main Street and Maiden Lane.

Together, the three projects could contain nearly 2,000 parking spots — which parking studies and real-life experiences indicate is badly needed downtown. The proposed maximum annual rent for the two Barrett & Stokely projects would total about $6.55 million and be provided through a combination of taxes generated by the projects, local income tax and food and beverage taxes controlled by the Capital Improvement Board. As I have previously reported, the city is asking the CIB for a total of $14.65 million for the two projects.

The lease payment for Ashberry Eight’s project has not been determined but would be repaid by taxes generated by the project and a related adjacent structure.

I know public subsidy of private projects is not universally praised, but in addition to the parking the Barrett & Stokely projects would create about 450 apartments and commercial space; Ashberry’s building also envisions shops and/or restaurants.

Put it all together and — even with the unknowns — it seems growth in downtown Fort Wayne won’t be ending any time soon. And that’s a good thing.

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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