Auburn establishes economic development target area

September 14th, 2018

By Mark Murdock | Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly

Auburn now has an economic development target area.

A resolution to establish the area was passed unanimously by the Auburn Economic Development Commission at its Sept. 10 meeting.

The three-person commission was fully populated when the County Council voted to appoint its vice president, Rick Ring. Sara Ley was appointed by Mayor Norm Yoder, and the Auburn Common Council appointed its president, Mike Watson, last week.

The commission sent a favorable recommendation to the Common Council for a proposed 10-year tax abatement for Strawman Group LLC. Owner and President Chris Straw is investing $2.56 million to move the corporate headquarters of his company, Team Quality Services, to the intersection of 7th and Jackson streets downtown.

The former home of Auburn House of Pancakes will be razed, and a new two-story building will go up in its place. Team Quality Services will have a lobby on the first floor and its offices on the second. The rest of the first floor will be leased for retail use.

Because part of the building will be used for retail, the economic development target area is necessary for Team Quality Services to be eligible for the abatement. The Common Council already has passed a resolution to grant the abatement on first reading.

The target area mirrors the city’s downtown historic district, stretching from Jackson to Cedar streets and from 4th to 11th.

TQS will bring 20 existing jobs downtown and expects to add 20 more, said Anton King, executive director of the DeKalb County Economic Development Partnership.

“The opportunities are open for additional jobs and additional businesses to be brought into that building,” King said. “We welcome this project. The growth of downtown and being able to push that momentum, we believe this is something that will jumpstart that. It puts another tool in the toolbelt of the city in ways that they can promote growth.”

Auburn City Councilman Mike Walter attended the meeting and raised several concerns about the commission’s action.

“I question how much research has gone into this,” Walter said. “Has the commission engaged in a study as to the economic development needs of the downtown area? Do you have other recommendations for the development of the downtown area in ways that are compatible with the historic district? Will it preserve a historic building? Will it preserve the historic character of the district?”

City Attorney Erik Weber said an economic development target area has the same requirements as a tax abatement, with a cessation of growth and a lack of development. The current building is more than 100 years old and in deteriorating condition, he said.

Walter pointed out that a business operated at the location and has been lost.

“The petitioners provided evidence and information to the (common council’s abatement) committee as to the condition of the building and what they’re planning to do to revitalize the area and bring economic development with jobs,” Weber said. “The building was for sale. It wasn’t a situation where this entity took the building, commandeered the building, anything of that nature.”

Weber said he believed the commission should make a favorable recommendation.

“Then it is a policy decision,” Weber said. “These are things you can debate, Councilman Walter, with your peers. They’re not legal issues.”

“We have eliminated a business in the downtown area,” Walter said. “It might be better to replace that with another business.”

“We have not eliminated any business,” Ring said. “The owner of the building sold the building.”

“Do we encourage the process by which an existing business is removed?” Walter asked.

“Do we reward someone for putting a $2.5 million investment in downtown Auburn?” Watson countered.

Walter said he also objected to the “undue haste with which this whole thing has been done.”

Ring said the project fits with what the city has been trying to do for a long time.

“We have been trying to develop, redevelop, improve downtown Auburn going back to my 20 years on the (common) council,” Ring said. “This is nothing new. We have an opportunity to have many good projects come into downtown Auburn and improve our city. I think it’s commendable what Strawman is trying to do.”

“They could have spent 2½ million dollars anywhere else,” Watson added.

Prior to the discussion, the commission elected officers, with Watson as president, Ley as vice president and Ring as secretary.

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