August 16, 2022

Square Feet: An Indiana Town Tries to Lure Renters With Ballpark Views

The Harrison, a four-story rental apartment building with 42 one- and two-bedroom units, will have balconies overlooking Parkview Field, the home of the Fort Wayne TinCaps, a minor-league team named for the headgear worn by John Chapman, a k a Johnny Appleseed, who is reportedly buried in this city of about 250,000 in northeast Indiana.

“It’s entirely conceivable you could catch a home run sometime,” said Jason Freier, the chief executive of Hardball Capital of Atlanta and the owner and managing partner of the 6,100-seat, $31 million stadium that opened in April 2009. “It would take a heck of a shot, but there have been balls hit over the condominium site already.”

The $110 million redevelopment effort, called Harrison Square, so far includes the ballpark, a brand-new Marriott Courtyard hotel and a 900-space parking garage; and skywalks to connect the Marriott and an existing Hilton hotel to the expanded Grand Wayne Convention Center, which will host the 2012 state Democratic convention.

But the Harrison, a 100,000-square-foot structure that will also have space for retail stores and offices, has been stalled by the recession and the inability to get financing. On June 13, a little more than two years after it was supposed to be finished, Mayor Tom C. Henry announced a private-public partnership that will finance the $18 million building.

“We started that last leg at the worst possible time,” said Mayor Henry, a Democrat who is running for re-election this year. “When the economy took a nose dive is when we needed everything put together. Once the needle began to point upward, banks started to get a little more generous.”

In the end, the project was awarded to PNC Bank of Pittsburgh, which will be responsible for about $8 million. The remaining money will be provided by others in the partnership, including Barry Real Estate of Atlanta and two local developers, Mark Hagerman of Hagerman Construction and Simon Dragan of Whitley Manufacturing Company, who will provide “north of $1 million each,” Mr. Henry said.

Hardball Capital will put $950,000 into the project via incremental payments while at the same time committing to $1 million worth of improvements to the ballpark over the next decade.

The public component consists of $4 million to $6 million in state and federal tax credits that can be sold.

“We also think that getting this project done is good for the city, and what’s good for the city is also important for us,” said Mr. Freier of Hardball. He and others credit Graham Richard, the city’s mayor from 2000 to 2008, with bringing the project from concept to reality.

“When I came here, we didn’t have an aggressive downtown development plan,“ said Mr. Richard, a Democrat who now is in private business and has a downtown office “within eyesight” of Harrison Square. “We didn’t have what I’d call an infrastructure that was attractive.”

The project was approved in April 2007. The property consisted of parking lots and old rental homes, Mr. Richard said, and once the blueprint was set down, the land was acquired in 18 months without resorting to eminent domain.

At the same time, Hardball Capital was looking to acquire the 15-year-old minor league ballpark on the north side of town and the team, then known as the Fort Wayne Wizards.

Mr. Freier, whose company also owns the Savannah Sand Gnats, said he wanted a new ball field that could be used for other sporting and local events. “You couldn’t get a semi truck out on the playing field,” said Mr. Richard, “so you couldn’t do rock concerts.”

The comfortable, retro-looking ballpark, built with Indiana sandstone and red brick, can be expanded to accommodate up to 8,000 people. In addition to concerts it is the site of N.C.A.A. Division I baseball and soccer games and local events like walk-a-thons and family movie nights using the Jumbotron. A ticket on game day can cost as little as $5, officials said.

Last Sept. 1, the 250-room Marriott Courtyard hotel and a 900-space parking garage opened, both of them overlooking Parkview Field. The $30 million undertaking by White Lodging, a Merrillville, Ind. real estate firm specializing in hotels, more than doubled the number of hotel rooms within walking distance of the convention center. The mayor and Mr. Richard like to boast that the Indiana State Democratic Convention has scheduled its 2012 convention in Fort Wayne because there are finally enough rooms to accommodate 2,000 convention-goers.

“It has not been outside Indianapolis for 80 years,” Mr. Henry said.

Those convention revelers will be able to enjoy an enhanced downtown. The new skywalks link the hotels to the convention center, and one links the Marriott to the historic Embassy Theater. The Fort Wayne Botanical Gardens are less than a block away, and other nearby attractions within walking distance are the city art museum and public library, a history museum and the Allen County Courthouse, a 1902 Beaux Arts architectural gem designated a national historic landmark in 2003.

The Harrison will have 25,000 square feet of retail space at street level and the same amount of office space on the second floor. Barry Real Estate said it had lined up Three Rivers Federal Credit Union and O’Reilly’s Irish Bar Restaurant, an Indianapolis-based chain, for 6,000 square feet so far. Carson Boxberger, a local law firm, has leased the second floor.

The challenge now will be luring younger singles and retired people to live in a downtown that is roomy and clean but somewhat unexciting, said Craig Klugman, the editor of The Journal Gazette, Fort Wayne’s morning daily newspaper. The Harrison is projected to be completed by March 2013.

“I think if they price them right, there will be a certain market for people who want to live downtown,” said Mr. Klugman, who said he thought the relatively easy commute of most downtown workers made it more difficult to attract renters.

Mr. Henry said city leaders were working hard to make downtown Fort Wayne “a point of destination for people.”

“You know Fort Wayne is in the Midwest,” he said. “We don’t have the mountains of the West. We don’t have the oceans of the coast. We decided that downtown is what that destination should be.”

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