Another Major Project On Boards For City Center, But What?

Major Project Creating Much Speculation, Just After String Of Other Announcements

It appears there may be something big in the works for a famous piece of downtown land, evicting longtime Cindy’s Diner.  This morning Kevin Leininger of The News-Sentinel reports that Cindy’s Diner along with many others in properties directly west have been informed they’ll be losing their lease(s).   This announcement is creating much speculation which trails other announcements such as the long awaited downtown grocery, a major rehabilitation and expansion of usable space at the Embassy, a theatre addition at the Auer Center, a large new residential project potentially combining apartments & town-homes directly west of Parkview Field, and possibly a new 5,000 seat special purpose arena.

So what can we expect from the latest announcement?  Let’s look at the facts.  1) The land mentioned is bordered by Webster to the west, Wayne to the south, and Harrison to the east.  2) We know there is demand for additional hotel rooms downtown, we just don’t know how much demand.  The mayor’s office was recently quoted in an article,

“Do we have volume to build another hotel, or do we say well, these (larger conventions) don’t happen often enough to justify it? There have been developers here talking to us about a new hotel. But it’s a very tough business decision.”

3) Lastly we know in the city’s Downtown BlueprintPlus plan, this area was intended for mixed-use entertainment/hotel use with ground level retail facing Harrison Street.

Now you might question why developers would decide to put a hotel a block north of The Grand Wayne, but I don’t believe it would be a big deal. A skywalk could easily be constructed spanning and entire block just east of the library plaza to connect to the convention center, and already be in place to “bridge in” whatever the surface lot on Washington & Harrison may become in the future.  With all of this in mind, this is just speculation.  A recent resurgence in demand for commercial & office space could prove us all wrong, but only time will tell.

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Will a downtown icon have to move out of the way for downtown progress?

Word of big project has Cindy’s Diner, other, worrying about new locations or the loss of history

Kevin Leininger | The News-Sentinel

FORT WAYNE, IN –  A business that was a downtown icon before downtown regained its cool may be forced to move – again – to make room for still more redevelopment.

“I got a call from my landlord Friday who said it appears to be a done deal,” Cindy’s Diner owner John Scheele said, referring to longstanding rumors that a major project was in the works for the block bounded by Wayne, Harrison, Webster and Berry Streets – supposedly involving a parking garage and a multi-story building for Ash Brokerage and possibly other tenants. Officials with Ash, the city and others involved have so far declined to comment, but owners of properties on the block have reportedly agreed to sell, most likely to the not-for-profit Downtown Development Trust, which was created in 2010 by the Economic Development Alliance and the Downtown Improvement District.

Another developer is also considering housing units and commercial space on the site, sources say.

Ash Brokerage had operated downtown at Main and Harrison streets, but in 2006 the nationwide insurance company moved its headquarters into the former Waterfield Mortgage Co. complex at 7609 W. Jefferson Blvd.

I can’t confirm that the deal is done, but I do know that any demolition could claim at least two buildings representing a considerable amount of local and sometimes controversial history – and that Schele’s isn’t the only business looking to move. It’s just the most visible and, perhaps, the one with the most to lose — or gain.

“It’s been very good here,” said Scheele, who with wife Cindy paid $16,000 for the then-empty diner in 1990 and moved it from Clay and Berry streets just east of downtown to the corner of Harrison and Wayne, where it is now just blocks from Parkview Field and other recent improvements. Built in 1953 by Valentine Manufacturing of Wichita, Kan., the diner opened as Noah’s Ark at Clinton and Jefferson before being renamed Marge’s Diner and moving to Clay and Berry in 1966.

Because Scheele has only a month-to-month lease, he has little choice but to move if told to do so. But relocating the diner, installing new utilities and other expenses could cost $100,000, “and I can’t afford to do that,” he said.

The pro-life Women’s Care Center, which opened 10 years ago next to what was then an abortion clinic at 827 Webster St., is also looking to move now that a tentative deal has been reached to sell its building. The clinic, subsequently closed and was recently on the market, but Coordinator Anne Koehl said the counseling center still received hundreds of visitors a month and wants to remain downtown, possibly on Wayne Street.

“I won’t miss the (former abortion) clinic, but It’s bittersweet, and quite a jolt (to have to move),” she said.

In addition to the Women’s Care Center and the empty former clinic that was once the site of contentious protests, other buildings that could be affected include a vacant home on Webster, a small attorneys’ office on Wayne and the neoclassical building at 222 W. Wayne St. that has been deemed historically and architecturally significant by city planners. In fact the building, erected around 1919 for the Anthony Wayne Institute, an early business school, was to be considered for protection by the Local Historic Review Board last month before the owner pulled it from the agenda shortly before the meeting.

An employee of the tattoo parlor in the basement said he also expects to move.

Mike Galbraith, executive director of historic preservation group ARCH, said loss of the building would be unfortunate – and perhaps unnecessary.

“In a lot of progressive cities, they would find a way to integrate the building into the design (of any new project),” he said.

The five-story building at 229 W. Berry that contains the Campbell & Fetters Bank and other tenants would reportedly not be included in the project.

Even though a lot of renovation was done before Koehl’s organization moved into its old house, the Women’s Care Center can move relatively easily. So can a tattoo parlor and attorneys. Scheele can’t, and it would be beyond a shame if Cindy’s Diner – which was threatened with relocation in 2006 when its site was temporarily considered for a new hotel – became a victim of the very downtown “improvement” it represents.

The proposed project sounds as though it would be good for Fort Wayne, but surely the people involved have pockets deep enough to help preserve the locally unique and historic Cindy’s for future generations.

There’s an empty parking lot across the street that looks pretty good to Scheele, and if that worls out he won’t even have to take the old “Lincoln Highway” marker off the building since the diner would remain on Harrison, which 100 years ago was part of the country’s first transcontinental highway.

MORE:

Cindy’s Diner Among Business To Be Moved In Downtown Development (VIDEO) [Indiana’s NewsCenter]

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Categories: Economic Development, Office Space

4 Comments on “Another Major Project On Boards For City Center, But What?”

  1. September 11, 2013 at 8:36 AM #

    According to an Indiana’s NewsCenter report (linked in above), there will supposedly be a 5 story office structure along with a parking garage.

  2. JV
    September 10, 2013 at 2:13 PM #

    This a definitely a misstep for downtown. We don’t need classic buildings destroyed to make room for more offices and aesthetics-damaging parking garages that block pedestrian interest. In the east half of the block, the parking garage could be hidden inside and concealed by fresh, main-street-façade buildings that provide character and will draw in people, then it should be a “go”. But if it’s another parking garage aesthetic debacle like the old Indiana Bank, the one next to Wells Fargo, the Washington-Calhoun-Jefferson-Clinton, or the Marriott (oh, and the just-finished garage on Calhoun just south of the railroad elevation, then your just wasting your time and surrendering to the burbs. If it goes ahead, how building AROUND the western half and Cindy’s, so we have some pleasing contrast to Corporate Blasé? Jim McKay

  3. September 10, 2013 at 9:57 AM #

    I agree the library parking lot would be the best short-term location for a hotel/garage, but I don’t think it’s the way to go. The one block stretch of Webster is more or less a tax burden as it doesn’t provide any significant purpose to traffic flow downtown since the library plaza was constructed. It’s just leftovers of a once useful street. I think that land would be best left undeveloped for the time being, as it appears to be the next logical area for a Grand Wayne Center expansion.

    If another hotel is in fact announced, having XXX more connected rooms to the GWC could /would eventually create demand for larger convention & meeting space. Now if we could only get a few more direct flights & rail service…

  4. Walker
    September 10, 2013 at 9:29 AM #

    Potentially, very exciting news. Here’s hoping that that someone could offset the cost of Cindy’s Diner moving elsewhere, but otherwise, yay! More people working downtown. More business. Bring it. Also, it seems like the library lot at the corner of Washington and Harrison would be a better spot for a potential third hotel with parking garage as it’s right across the street from Grand Wayne, but we’ll see what happens.

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