Work begins to appraise value of possible downtown arena site

March 2nd, 2016

News Coverage:

February 29, 2016

Work begins to appraise value of possible downtown arena site

Kevin Leininger

A Fort Wayne appraiser is reviewing the value of a block of downtown real estate as part of the process that could lead to construction of a proposed $63 million mid-sized arena.

Owners of property in the area bounded by West Washington and West Jefferson boulevards and Ewing and Webster streets received a letter from appraiser Lowell Griffin last week informing them he had been asked to "provide an appraisal value opinion for each of the properties for planning purposes."

The block immediately to the west of the Grand Wayne Center currently contains three fast-food restaurants on land owned by businessman George Huber, parking lots owned and used by the Allen County Public Library, and an early 20th Century bungalow that was added to historic preservation group ARCH's list of endangered structures last year because it may be in the way of progress.

Mayor Tom Henry has said he supports the project but has not committed the city to pursuing it. A planning committee headed by Sweetwater Sound CEO has been studying the project for more than a year, and Surack said a recommendation could come as soon as next month. But one of the unknown factors has been the expense of acquiring the necessary property, which is not included in the $63 million construction estimate.

As The News-Sentinel reported earlier this month, property on the site is assessed for taxing purposes at more than $2.6 million, but the actual costs would probably be considerably more. Much of the library's property is tax-exempt and therefore has no assessed value, for example, and the businesses and possibly even the historic home would have to be relocated. In the past, the city has also agreed to compensate a relocated business for lost sales.

Although funding for an arena has not been identified, Greater Fort Wayne Inc. recently commissioned a study suggesting the community could afford more than $350 million in debt to pay for the stadium and other projects. The state's Regional Cities program could also be approached, and GFW has also proposed tax increases that could help subsidize the project and competing venues affected by the arena.

GFW is also paying Griffin's expenses, which Surack estimated could run in the tens of thousands of dollars. GFW CEO Eric Doden has been an outspoken proponent of the arena project. But although Griffin's letter states that GFW "is contemplating development of a sports arena," that decision will be made by Henry and other city officials, Surack said.

Surack said committee members already have an idea how much the property might be worth, but a formal appraisal is needed during negotiations and should the city consider using its power of eminent domain, which Surack hopes is unnecessary.

Whatever the results of Griffin's appraisals, Surack said he believes it will have minimal impact on the committee's final decision.