Location set for boutique hotel project

November 6th, 2017

By Rosa Salter Rodriguez | The Journal Gazette

When Vera Bradley co-founder Barbara Bradley Baekgaard has traveled around the world, there's one thing she tends to remember – the hotel where she stayed.

“Where you stay has such an impact on your memory,” she said Monday afternoon during a news conference to unveil her latest project – a $27.7 million boutique-style hotel destined for a parking lot on the northwest corner of Main and Harrison streets in downtown Fort Wayne.

“When people come here, ... I always felt when I dropped them off at their hotel that I wish we had something like that,” she said. “I really wanted there to be a nice, warm place that is more like the spirit of the people and the values we have here.” 

By next spring, the embodiment of that wish will begin with a  groundbreaking for a 125-room, five-story hotel including nine suites, ground-floor restaurant and retail space and an indoor/outdoor entertainment area on the roof.

Baekgaard, who announced nearly a year ago the plans for the downtown boutique hotel project, will oversee the interior design.

Bashar Wali, president of developer Provenance Hotels, Portland, Oregon, said the hotel will be one of a kind and aimed not just at travelers but also local residents. He said he wants it to be seen as “Fort Wayne's living room.”

That means the restaurant will be open to local residents, and the company is looking for locally made art and products to sell in two retail shops that will occupy 2,500 square feet of first-floor space fronting Main and Harrison streets.

“We are not a brand. We don't do the same thing from city to city or even within the same city,” he said. “Our goal is to have a space for the (city's) people.” 

According to its website, Provenance has 12 owned or co-owned hotels and six projects in the works. In an interview after the news conference, Wali said Provenance concentrates on mid-size markets, not large cities, and several of its projects focus on adaptive reuse of older buildings.

Among cities where Provenance has or plans a presence are Seattle and Tacoma in Washington; New Orleans; Nashville, Tennessee; Milwaukee and Madison in Wisconsin; Palm Springs and Hermosa Beach in California; and Stillwater, Minnesota. Provenance has seven locations in Portland.

“We go beyond putting heads in beds to fill properties with innovation and value, with substance and meaning, with ideas of resetting the industry bar,” according to the company's website.

Each of Provenance's nine boutique hotels received Conde Nast Traveler's Readers' Choice awards for 2017.

Local government bodies will consider assisting the project at upcoming meetings, when more on the public financial participation in it will be outlined, said Nancy Townsend, director of the Fort Wayne Redevelopment Commission.

The commission Monday will consider a proposal to invest just under $4 million in taxes paid by the proposed hotel, she said. The money would reimburse up-front loans from the Allen County commissioners, the city of Fort Wayne and the Allen County-Fort Wayne Capital Improvement Board.

Townsend said the money will come from property taxes paid by the hotel into the Riverfront Tax Increment Financing district.

TIF districts slow inflow of tax money to the government and, generally, direct that those taxes go for improvements to property within the district.

But they also provide tax money that would not have been available had the property not been improved, said Townsend. She praised Provenance for their responsiveness and transparency in dealing with the city. 

“We've pored over their financials. They've never failed, they've never sold a hotel. They stick,” she said.

The capital improvement board will consider a request of at least $1.8 million at its November meeting.

Questioned about what will happen to those who use the parking lot, Wali said county employees will be able to use other spaces and other users are on a month-to-month lease and would be assisted in finding somewhere else to park. 

The hotel and restaurant guests, he said, would likely need about 60 additional spaces, which he said would come from other properties he could not specify. He said amenities for guests would be valet parking they would access from a drive-thru space on the Main Street side of the building. 

Elevatus Architecture, Fort Wayne, is designing the 85,000-square-foot building and The Hagerman Group, Fort Wayne, will serve as general contractor.   

At the news conference, Mayor Tom Henry said he was pleased by Provenance's choice to ally the company with Baekgaard and her vision for the city.

“The fact that they chose Fort Wayne speaks volumes,” he said of the hotel's developer.