Downtown outlook improving
By Dave Kurtz | KPC News - The Star
A steady transformation of downtown Auburn continued in 2017, with no signs of stopping in the year ahead.
In one of the most visible improvements, Jeremiah’s coffee shop opened Dec. 4 in its new home at 101 E. 9th St. on the southwest corner of the courthouse square.
“Can you beat that view?” owner Jeremiah Otis asked at the time, gazing out the ceiling-to-floor windows on two sides of the shop. “You can see the entire downtown from here. I would venture that no one in northeast Indiana has anything like this — not like this.”
Otis worked with the building’s owner, The James Foundation, to create a welcoming atmosphere in the building that dates back to the 1890s.
One block to the north, Auburn City Steakhouse, a new downtown restaurant and bar, is under construction as crews work toward an opening early next year.
The steakhouse will operate at 203 S. Main St. in the 149-year-old Auburn City Hardware building, purchased in late 2015 by Rick and Vicki James’ VRJ Holdings.
Restaurant owner Robert Lebamoff of Fort Wayne said he believes it will help to revitalize downtown Auburn.
“It’s going to be a first-class operation, but it’s not going to be a pricey place,” Lebamoff said in September. The decor will showcase the building’s original tin ceiling and hardwood floors. Its century-old elevator will be moved toward the entrance and used as “a showpiece” in the restaurant, Lebamoff said. The hardware store’s 1907 cash register will be on display, and vintage lighting fixtures from the store’s past will be used.
Another block to the west at 7th and Jackson streets, 2017 saw a parking lot upgrade to match the handsome plaza and stage The James Foundation completed across the street in 2016.
Stretching back east from the park, the 6th & Main Streetscape Project is scheduled for construction in 2018.
The 100 and 200 blocks of North Main Street, the 100 block of West 6th Street and the Main and 6th intersection will get new sidewalks, curbing and vintage-style lighting, plus trees, green spaces and benches in a project financed by the city and a state grant.
A half-mile east of downtown, The James Foundation is spearheading a major expansion of Auburn First United Methodist Church, the Jameses’ home congregation. The project is not complete, but the first community event in the new space — the annual Gingerbread Festival — took place Dec. 10.
Still another project of The James Foundation was showcased June 17 in an open house for Greenhurst Commons on North Main Street. The James Foundation joined with the Cairn Foundation of Steel Dynamics CEO Mark Millett and his wife, Abby, to buy the former Greenhurst Country Club and convert it to a nature park.
A dramatic transformation took place in 2017 at the former Auburn Foundry headquarters on West 11th Street in Auburn.
When the foundry dissolved in bankruptcy in 2005, the abandoned structure was left to the mercy of weather and vandals.
Tempus Technologies rescued the building by purchasing it last year, and in October it invited guests to see the resurrection.
“We’re super-thrilled about the end result,” company President Jason Sweitzer said about the new home for his rapidly growing business. The building now gleams with a modern decor in blacks, grays, glass and polished metal.
The building houses 45 employees of Tempus, which has been operating in Auburn for 30 years but surged in the past two years.
Also this year:
- On the city’s west side, a new Save-A-Lot store opened Jan. 5 at 1014 W. 7th St. in West Edge Mall, bringing its “discount value model” to DeKalb County.
- A new Aldi grocery store is nearing completion at 207 Touring Drive, immediately south of Arby’s restaurant.
- Developers announced plans for two new hotels in 2017. Amerilodge Inc. of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, will build a Holiday Inn Express & Suites along the south side of S.R. 8, west of Interstate 69. The hotel is scheduled to have four floors with 90 guest rooms.
- In July, the Auburn Plan Commission approved a new Tru by Hilton hotel a short distance west of the proposed Holiday Inn site, on the north side of S.R. 8. Auburn already has seven brand-name hotels on the city’s west side.